After two years of trying to schedule a meeting, the wife of a Christian pastor imprisoned in Iran finally met with President Obama on Wednesday.
Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned since 2012 for “crimes against the national security of Iran” — that is, for setting up a network of evangelical house churches. His wife Naghmeh, a native-born U.S. citizen, has appeared repeatedly before Congress demanding greater accountability for his release.
The White House confirmed to The Daily Caller News Foundation that Obama will meet with Naghmeh Abedini while visiting Boise on Wednesday. Press representatives declined to provide further information, though in a Twitter Q&A, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote that “We don’t want cases of detained Americans linked to nuke negotiations – Iran should release them unconditionally.”
“Better ridiculously late than never,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told TheDCNF. “Naghmeh Abedini is a force to be reckoned with, and has been tireless in advocating for her husband and other persecuted Christians around the world.”
Top officials have occasionally mentioned Abedini’s imprisonment during the last two years. At the National Prayer Breakfast last February, Obama said that “we continue to work for his freedom,” alongside others imprisoned abroad for their religious beliefs. Last week, press secretary Josh Earnest mentioned him among other Americans in Iranian prisons, urging their “immediate release.”
Other areas of the government have also responded, albeit slowly. Late last year, the Senate confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein, who conservatives and liberals agree “gets it,” as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, after the post was empty for over a year. It remains to be seen if Saperstein can cut through layers of State Department obstruction to implement policies that favor religious freedom abroad. (RELATED: Meet The New Religious Freedom Ambassador)
And on Capitol Hill, a small but devoted group of legislators continues to press for increased attention to those around the world who suffer for their faith.
Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told TheDCNF that a president’s meeting with prisoners’ families “has an enormously positive impact both on the prisoners and on how America is viewed abroad.” Alluding to the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, Lantos Swett said that if Iran fails to release Abedini and other religious prisoners, “a cloud of mistrust and ill will shall continue to hang over Iran in its international dealings.”
Asked about the lack of formal U.S. actions beyond strongly worded statements, Moore of the Southern Baptists attributed it to a “blind spot,” claiming that “there’s some correlation with ham-handedness and even hostility on religious liberty domestically.”
He continued, “One of the things we’re constantly pointing out is that religious freedom isn’t just a niche issue, but a matter of human rights and also national security. When, in almost every sector of the world, religious persecution leads to incendiary conflict, the White House ought to pay attention.”
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