Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona lashed out at the Obama administration's "absolutely criminal silence" following Iran's denial of imprisoned U.S. minister Saeed Abedini's appeal.
"I hope that the American people will hold the Obama administration and State Department accountable for its absolutely criminal silence in the face of such a heartless injustice forced upon this beloved American pastor, his innocent family, and so many others,” said Franks, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"The American people would be outraged to truly know how our own State Department has responded with such deafening and cowardly silence when an American father, husband, and pastor is thrown into a harsh prison under an oppressive regime for having the 'nerve' to practice his Christian faith," Franks said in a statement released to Newsmax.
Abedini is nearing the one-year anniversary of his imprisonment and is in failing health. He was sentenced to eight years in the country's most brutal Evin prison on charges of endangering national security, but his supporters say he was in Iran working to build an orphanage with permission of the Iranian government.
"The U.S. State Department, under John Kerry, should be utterly ashamed of its failure to speak out on behalf of Saeed Abedini and his precious family," Franks said.
Other than a two-paragraph statement by Kerry last March saying the "best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released," the administration has not commented further.
Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, echoed Franks' criticism of the administration, saying that Obama "has been awkwardly silent" about her husband's fate.
"My husband is serving eight years in the notorious Evin prison and facing daily threats and abuse by radicals because he refuses to deny his Christian faith. And yet, my president, President Obama, has not spoken a word about him," she said in a statement issued shortly after learning the Iranian court's decision.
"I am extremely disappointed that President Obama has chosen to remain silent on this critical human and religious rights case of an American imprisoned in Iran," she said.
Naghmeh believes the Iranian government is trying to use her husband as an example.
"Their power is so intertwined with their religion, and so they really see religious freedom as a political move more than a human rights decision. They see him as one of the main figures, and they're trying to use him as an example," she told The Idaho Press-Tribune
The Rev. Franklin Graham and his evangelical humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse have been trying to draw attention to Abedini's plight. Writing on his father Billy Graham's website, Graham conveyed the news this week that Abedini's "internal injuries have finally been treated."
Graham said Abedini's plight is an extreme example of an anti-Christian sentiment that is commonplace even in America.
"I don’t know if believers in our own country will ever experience this degree of persecution, but I do know that our religious freedoms are being seriously eroded," he writes in a blog on the website of his father, Bill Graham.
"Our children can't pray aloud in public schools. Students who speak openly about Jesus Christ at public assemblies have their microphones shut off. Our military is hostile to soldiers who share and practice their faith, and even atheists now aim to become 'chaplains' in America’s armed forces," Graham said.
"In a nation that was founded by believers seeking the freedom to practice their religion, Christians are now routinely targeted by our courts and government for reasons related to their faith in Jesus Christ," he writes.
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