Billy Graham asks Iran’s president to release Christian pastor
by Alex Murashko
Newscast Media NEW YORK—Renowned evangelist Billy Graham is asking Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini from prison, pointing out that such an action might be perceived by U.S. leaders as a significant step in reducing tensions.
“On September 26, the one-year anniversary of Pastor Abedini’s imprisonment, thousands will attend prayer vigils in more than 70 U.S. cities, calling on your country to release this husband, father and servant of God,” Graham writes in a letter addressed to Rouhani and published on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website. “I join them by respectfully asking you to release Pastor Saeed Abedini from prison. Such an action would, I believe, have a positive impact in our nation, and might well be perceived by our leadership as a significant step in reducing tensions.”
Abedini has been in Evin Prison in Tehran since his arrest last year, and was later sentenced to eight years in jail, supposedly for endangering national security. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) recently launched the largest campaign in its history aimed at sending thousands of letters each week to Rouhani, petitioning for the U.S. pastor. The ACLJ, which represents his wife, Naghmeh, and their two young children in the U.S., says that Iran has targeted the pastor for his Christian faith.
Despite a worldwide petition signed by close to 650,000 people, and top U.S. officials, such as Secretary of State John Kerry, calling on Iran to release the pastor, who has suffered beatings and been placed in solitary confinement, the Islamic republic has refused to listen to pleas for his release. In addition, the Tehran Court of Appeals declined to reduce Abedini’s 8-year sentence in August.
On Monday, Naghmeh Abedini was able to hand-deliver a letter to Rouhani’s delegation in their hotel lobby while in New York to attend the U.N General Assembly, according to news reports. In the note, she asked for her husband’s quick release, according to her attorneys.
In Graham’s letter to Rouhani, he writes that as a religious leader he has have often spoken, both publicly and privately, with U.S. leadership about the need for greater understanding and peace among the nations of the world. “As you come to the United States this week for the U.N. General Assembly in New York, it is my sincere hope that ways may be found to reduce the current tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he states.