A branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Iran on Sunday sentenced an American-Iranian pastor to eight years in prison for threatening national security through his leadership in Christian house churches. Saeed Abedini, 32, became a US citizen through marriage [Reuters report] in 2010 and has been traveling between the US and Iran since he was ordained a minister through the American Evangelistic Association [advocacy website] in 2008. This summer Iranian authorities placed Abedini on house arrest, then in September sent him to prison where he was beaten and tortured, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website], which is representing Abedini's wife and two children in the US. Judge Pir-Abassi convicted and sentenced [ACLJ report] Abedini after allowing his lawyer one day in court to put on a defense, which was also the only day of the trial Abedini and his lawyer were permitted to attend. The evidence provided by the prosecution was of Abedini's Christian activities in the early 2000s, when house churches were not perceived as such a threat to Iran's national security. Prior to the announcing of the verdict the US State Department [official website] condemned [press release] "Iran's continued violation of the universal rights of freedom of religion" and called on the Iranian authorities to respect Adebini's human rights and release him.
Abedini is only the most recent human rights advocate to be imprisoned by Iran for threatening national security. Earlier this month Iranian lawyer and prominent human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh [JURIST news archive] was temporarily released after spending over two years in prison [JURIST report] in Tehran for her September 2010 conviction for propaganda and harming national security. Iranian authorities pursued Sotoudeh because she represented political activists and sought to highlight the execution of juveniles in the country. In December Sotoudeh ended a 49-day hunger strike [JURIST report] in protest of her prison conditions and a travel ban imposed on her family. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had expressed concern for Sotoudeh's deteriorating health and urged the Iranian government to lift the travel ban, saying the ban was not justified by international law. After judicial authorities agreed to lift the travel ban on Sotoudeh's daughter, Sotoudeh ended her strike. Sotoudeh was sentenced in January 2011 to 11 years in prison after being found guilty of "acting against national security" and "making propaganda against the system" for which she will serve five and one years, respectively.