Hasan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, made his debut on the world stage at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, calling for “a framework for managing our differences.” He didn’t offer the olive branch President Obama wanted. If Tehran is genuinely interested in improving relations with the United States and the West, Mr. Rouhani and the ruling mullahs could prove it with a small gesture. He could free a Christian pastor who on Thursday marks his first anniversary as a political prisoner in Tehran’s notoriously evil Evin Prison.
Saeed Abedini was arrested a year ago working in an orphanage in Iran. Accused of “endangering national security,” he was arrested, “tried” and sentenced to eight years in prison for what the regime considers the greatest crime a Muslim can commit: converting to faith in Christ. Despite a worldwide petition delivered to Tehran signed by nearly 625,000 persons pleading for his release, Mr. Abedini, 33, has been subjected to beatings and solitary confinement. An appeals court in Tehran declined to commute or reduce his sentence at Evin, which Gissou Nia, executive director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, says “is synonymous with political repression and torture.”
Mr. Abedini’s wife told an audience at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., last week that her husband was promised his freedom if he would renounce his Christian faith and embrace Islam. “He’s been asked and tortured to deny his Christian faith and return to Islam, and he has not,” said Naghmeh Abedini, who lives in Idaho with their two young children. “The kids and I desperately want him back, but we’re proud that … he has chosen Christ, even over coming back to us.” He could employ the Muslim practice of “taqiya” — lying to advance the cause of Islam — and renounce his “apostasy” to obtain his freedom, but there is no similar lie in Christian teaching. His wife says his remarkable fortitude has won 30 converts to the Christian faith among the other inmates, mostly Muslims. The Iranian government could release Mr. Abedini if only to protect Islam from further erosion at Evin Prison.
On Monday, the Iranian-American pastor’s wife hand-delivered a letter pleading for her husband’s freedom directly to the Iranian delegation in New York for the U.N. session. Mrs. Abedini was staying at the same hotel as the Tehran contingent, and when the diplomats passed through the lobby she seized the opportunity to introduce herself to Mr. Rouhani, and “speaking in Farsi, asked him to release her husband,” according to the American Center for Law and Justice, which has organized a letter-writing campaign on the pastor’s behalf.
The Rev. Billy Graham has written to Mr. Rouhani asking him to release Mr. Abedini. Prayer vigils are scheduled in more than 70 cities on Thursday, including one in front of the White House. President Obama should add his name to those seeking the pastor’s freedom. By freeing this captive, the new Iranian president could show the world that the frequently used “moderate” label actually applies here, and Iran’s “new” leader isn’t just a fresh new face installed as a substitute for an ugly one.