She has thousands of friends on Facebook and her own hashtag on Twitter. But the stress of more than three years’ advocating for her husband’s release from an Iranian prison has caught up with Naghmeh Abedini.
The 38-year-old wife of Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini released a statement through the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) saying she regrets sending emails that allegedly describe abuse by Saeed. Emails sent by Naghmeh to supporters became public with a Christianity Today report yesterday, revealing details of a troubled marriage that included “physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse (through Saeed’s addiction to pornography),” which she said have continued since his imprisonment.
“I regret having sent the emails,” Naghmeh said in a statement this morning. “I was under great psychological and emotional distress. I am now taking time off to heal and to rest and to spend much needed time with my kids. I would appreciate for those who care about Saeed and our family to give us time for rest and healing and to respect our privacy.”
Immigrants from Iran (now U.S. citizens) and converts from Islam to Christianity, Naghmeh and Saeed Abedini married in 2002 and moved to the United States in 2005. They made frequent trips back to Iran, supporting house church Christians in the face of repeated interrogations for Saeed by the Islamic regime. Eventually Iranian officials agreed to cease the questioning and harassment if Saeed agreed to stop working with house churches. He did, but the government arrested him in 2012 anyway during a visit to open a state-approved orphanage. In January 2013, an Iranian judge sentenced him to eight years in prison for “undermining the Iranian government.”
Naghmeh became Saeed’s chief advocate, traveling all over the world to lobby for his release, meeting this year with President Barack Obama, whom she has accused of ignoring her husband’s plight in negotiations with Iran, and with Pope Francis. In September she traveled to New York, meeting at multiple gatherings with world leaders at the UN General Assembly while at the same time three weeks into a personal fast on her husband’s behalf. At that time she also learned Saeed had again been beaten in prison and abused with a taser. The following week she took part in some of more than 900 prayer vigils held in 46 countries to commemorate Saeed’s three-year anniversary in prison on Sept. 26.
The travel and personal appearances, interspersed with time at home in Boise, Idaho, with her two children, ages 7 and 9, took its toll.
“I am going to be taking time off of my social media and Facebook (at least for the next 2-3 months) and will be spending more time with the Lord and more time with my kids who desperately need it,” she told Facebook friends in early November.
The four-page email that went to some of her closest contacts earlier this week, detailing abuse by her husband, came as a shock to those who have long supported the Iranian pastor and his family. Following news of the allegations, ACLJ, the principal advocate for Saeed’s release, said it “will not have any comment on the personal issues” Naghmeh addressed but will continue to focus on Saeed’s wrongful imprisonment.
“There are three things that I know. … I know Saeed is an American citizen of Iranian descent. I know he is in jail because of his faith. And I know that his life is in danger. Because of that we were working to secure his release. None of that has changed,” ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow told Christianity Today.
John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center, agreed that nothing about Saeed Abedini’s situation had changed.
“This does not change the fact that he is still in prison wrongfully,” Stonestreet said. “It highlights how sin and brokenness are part of reality, and not just in the heart of a radical extremist.”
— by Mindy Belz | WNS