- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 16, 2016

News of Saturday’s release of Iranian-American Christian pastor Saeed Abedini was hailed, especially at an event in honor of religious liberty.

“Thank God! We celebrate with Naghmeh Abedini on the release of her husband Pastor Saeed Abedini,” Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, who was leading a four-hour event in honor of the Jan. 16 National Religious Freedom Day.

Naghmeh Abedini confirmed via Twitter her husband’s release, as did Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, which has represented the family, World magazine reported.

“This has been an answer to prayer,” Mrs. Abedini tweeted. “This is a critical time for me and my family. We look forward to Saeed’s return and want to thank the millions of people who have stood with us in prayer during this most difficult time.”

Members of Congress, world leaders and countless others around the world had been praying and petitioning Iran for the release of Mr. Abedini, who was captured, imprisoned and tortured by Iranian government on charges of ​endangering the security​ of the state.

Mr. Abedini, 35, was born and raised a Muslim in Iran, but converted to Christianity in 2000; he was arrested in 2012 when he returned to Iran on a humanitarian mission to help with orphanages.

The pastor had been “viciously beaten” many times for not recanting Christianity, according to a June article in the Christian Post. He had been serving an eight-year prison sentence for threatening national security.

“Pastor Abedini’s imprisonment and torture is a reminder of the vigilance required to preserve and promote not just our First Freedom as Americans, but the basic human right of the freedom of religion,” Mr. Perkins said Saturday.

At a September prayer vigil, Mrs. Abedini, who is also a U.S. citizen, read from a letter in which the imprisoned pastor reassured his 8-year-old daughter that “Lord Jesus Christ is in control,” and expressed his wish that she “learn important lessons during these trying times,” particularly that “everything that is happening in it is for His good purpose,” the Catholic News Agency said.

Separately, in December, Iran released Pastor Farshid Fatih from prison, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).

He was then reunited with his parents, who are part of Voices of Christians in Iran.

The charges against Mr. Fatih were similar to what many Christian converts in Iran face if they choose to meet together with others who share their beliefs, the ICC said.

He had been sentenced to​ ​six years in prison for “action against the security of the state, contact with foreign organizations, and religious propaganda.” These charges are used to give a criminal element to what is technically legal according to Iran law, but in practice is the cause for dozens of arrests, the ICC said.

More than 90 Christians are still believed to be imprisoned in Iran, according to a variety of advocacy groups who work in support of Iranian Christians,​ World Watch Monitor reported.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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