WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Boise pastor imprisoned in Iran for his religious beliefs has been sentenced to eight years behind bars, multiple sources including the U.S. State Department confirmed Sunday.
About three years ago, after being arrested in his native Iran, Pastor Saeed Abedini agreed to no longer do missionary work there. He returned nine times to conduct non-religious, humanitarian work. Most recently, Abedini traveled to Iran last Summer to help build an orphanage. However, on that trip he was arrested by Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Family, friends, and supporters of Abedini were on pins and needles this week, waiting for the results of his trial in Iran. He's accused of threatening that nation's security with his previous missionary work.
After days of not knowing the results of the trial or even where he was, Sunday, the American Center for Law and Justice says Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison.
"Pretty devastating news today," said Tiffany Barrans, the ACLJ's international legal director. "We know, because he has been beaten, both by inmates and by guards at the prison, that an eight year sentence really is like a death sentence."
This comes after a rumor circulated that Abedini may actually be released. But, Abedini's wife, Naghmeh said it was nothing more than a ploy by the Iranian government.
"The promise of his release was a lie," said Naghmeh. "We should not trust the empty words or promises put out by the Iranian government. These false hopes amount to psychological torture. You don't want to trust them, but they build a glimmer of hope before the crushing blow. With today's development, I am devastated for my husband and my family. We must now pursue every effort, turn every rock and not stop until Saeed is safely on American soil."
But, those efforts are limited. "We know that the United State is limited in its diplomatic efforts, because we don't have a diplomatic relationship with Iran," said Barrans. "However, we have relationships with many countries who do."
Barrans says putting pressure on Iran through those countries, like Brazil and Russia, can make a difference. Grassroots efforts, like letters and an online petition may also be of benefit. "Even despite the devastation that Saeed's family is currently feeling, there is a glimmer of hope still, that they hold on to, that this isn't the end," said Barrans.
Barrans says Abedini does have a chance to appeal his sentence. However, history shows appeals in the Iranian court system are rarely successful. The appeals process may be particularly difficult because, according to the ACLJ, the the judge handling the case is acting on directives from the Ayatollah Khamenei himself.
U.S. State Department Spokesman Darby Holladay said Sunday that the department is calling on Iran to respect Saeed Abedini's human rights and release him. Holladay said the State Department is in close contact with Abedini's family and actively engaged in the case. The agency says it condemns Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion.