Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been held in an Iranian prison since 2012, said that no deal should have been signed until Iran agreed to release the American citizens being held in Iran.
Far from the pronouncement by U.S. President Barack Obama that insisting on the Americans’ release would have weakened the hand of the U.S. in negotiations, making a deal contingent on their release could have easily been incorporated into any agreement.
Three Americans who are being held on dubious and falsified charges and who are suffering severe health issues could certainly have been released in a “magnanimous” humanitarian gesture by the Islamic republic.
Abedini, 35, was arrested in Iran while setting up an orphanage for children. Although he is now an American citizen, he travelled frequently to his native country to visit family and help the country’s citizens. He was charged with undermining state security and received an eight-year prison term.
His family reports he has been beaten severely and now suffers from life-threatening injuries for which he is not receiving adequate medical treatment
"The Iranian government claims to want constructive engagement with the world. Yet, Iran refuses to free Boise [Idaho] Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned since 2012," said U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in a statement.
Another lawmaker from Idaho, Senator Jim Risch, similarly weighed in saying, "The failure of the administration to secure the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, which should have been a simple task, even at the outset of negotiations, has been ignored despite the chorus of pleas to achieve this goal." Other Abedini supporters questioned Obama's statement that releasing Abedini is a "priority."
Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, who has been helping the Abedini family, said in a statement. "It is unconscionable that the Obama Administration would sign a deal with Iran without securing the freedom of Pastor Saeed who has been imprisoned for nearly three years simply because of his Christian faith."
"President Obama told the Abedini family face-to-face that he considered the release of Pastor Saeed a 'top priority.' How could that be a 'top priority' when a deal is reached and Pastor Saeed is left behind??” he asked.
Two other Americans are being held in Iran:
Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American journalist and bureau chief for the Washington Post in Tehran, was arrested close to a year ago in what was originally called a “technical investigation.” After seven month in prison, Iran charged Rezaian with being a spy, saying he gave sensitive information about Iran and its economy to “hostile governments.” He was also charged with “spreading propaganda.” A sporadic trial, under the auspices of a particularly harsh judge, has been closed to the public and press. Rezaian could face 20 years in prison if convicted
Amir Hekmati, 30, went to Iran to visit his grandmother and other family members. Before he travelled to Iran, Hekmati told the Iranian authorities that he was a former U.S. marine (he had been a translator in Iraq, among other positions in the military) and asked them if that would create any problems for him. His paperwork was processed and Hekamti set off for Iran, as he had done without problems on two previous visits.
A few weeks after his arrival, Hekmati was arrested and accused of being a spy for the CIA. A court case in January 2012 rendered a conviction, and Hekmati was sentenced to death. However, three months later the conviction was annulled. Yet to date, Hekmati remains imprisoned in Iran.
Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org