Saeed Abedini, an American pastor, was released from prison by Iran after being held since 2012 for creating private churches in Iran. Who is he, how many children does he have, and who is his wife? Saeed was one of four Americans released as part of a prisoner release deal between the U.S. and Iran. He and his wife, Naghmeh Abedini, have two children. His family and supporters have been advocating for his release for years, saying he was a victim of Christian persecution.
Here’s what you need to know about Saeed and his family.
1. Saeed Converted to Christianity After Being Recruited as a Suicide Bomber
Saeed was born and raised Muslim, but converted to Christianity in 2000. When he was 20, a radical Muslim group recruited him and he participated in training to become a suicide bomber, Fox News reported. Naghmeh said that the deeper her husband went into the training, the more depressed he became. Eventually, he converted to Christianity, which Naghmeh said saved his life.
2. He Was Arrested in 2012 for Evangelizing Christianity in Iran
In 2012 at the age of 32, Saeed was arrested in Iran after taking a short trip there from his home in Idaho to work on an orphanage he was building and visit his parents. Five men kicked in the door of his parents’ home in Tehran, took all communications devices, and arrested him, Fox News reported. The rest of the family was placed under house arrest. Two days before, his wife Naghmeh got a phone call from someone threatening that she would never see her husband again.
Saeed had been an active part of an underground “house church” movement in Iran, Huffington Post reported. He and his wife left Iran for the U.S. in 2005, where Saeed later became a U.S. citizen, giving him dual Iranian-American citizenship. In 2009, Saeed and Naghmeh returned to Iran with their children for a visit. He was interrogated by Iranian authorities and signed an agreement to abstain from the house church movement in exchange for his freedom. He visited Iran nine more times between 2009 and 2012. His attorneys say that he kept to the agreement and only did humanitarian work in Iran.
In 2012, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, based on charges against him from 2000, according to his attorneys. In September, there were hints that his sentence might be extended.
3. His Wife Naghmeh Campaigned Relentlessly for His Release, But Then Quit After Saying He Had Abused Her
Naghmeh and Saeed have two young children: Rebekka, 9, and Jacob, 7. Naghmeh told The Washington Post that his release was a time of rejoicing for the family. Naghmeh campaigned relentlessly for her husband’s release, amassing a huge following of over 50,000 followers on Facebook and over 10,000 followers on Twitter. She said his being under arrest was the hardest on the kids, because he was a stay-at-home dad, Fox News reported. Naghmeh said:
My daughter said she is forgetting Daddy’s voice and she asked me, ‘Do you think he has a beard now?’ I didn’t even think of that. She keeps playing the home videos over and over.”
But in November, Naghmeh stopped her tireless campaign for Saeed’s freedom. In two emails to supporters, she talked about their troubled marriage and said she had face physical, emotional, and psychological abuse and sexual abuse from his addiction to pornography, Christianity Today reported. She said the abuse started early in their relationship and somehow worsened while he was in prison, when they communicated by phone and Skype. “I cannot live a lie anymore,” she wrote her supporters. “So, I have decided to take a break from everything and seek the Lord on how to move forward.” She said she would still pray for her husband, who was a “treasure.”
Twelve days after sending the two emails, Naghmeh released a statement saying that she regretted what she wrote, Charisma News reported. “I was under great psychological and emotional distress,” she said. Apparently the emails she sent were never meant for wide release, BP News reported.
4. Naghmeh Started a Three Week Fast in the Beginning of January
In January, Naghmeh announced that she was starting a three-week fast, Christian Today reported. She said the fast was meant to help her “spend more time in the presence of the Lord and to draw closer to the heart of God.” She said she would be sharing scripture every day that God put on her heart and encouraged others to join her. She cited Daniel 10:2-3 as her inspiration for the fast. After she announced his release on her Facebook page, one supporter wrote: “…I just have chills for how you have spent your last few months not in the limelight but simply in God’s presence praying and fasting and now is when He responds and saves the day!!! … You are … an incredible example to us of what it looks like to NOT give up on God and faith no matter how hard.”
5. Saeed Often Wrote Touching Letters to His Two Children While He Was in Prison
Saeed was known for writing heartfelt letters to his two young children while he was in prison. His letters were often published so his supporters could continue to advocate for his release. In 2014, he wrote an encouraging letter to his daughter Rebekka on her eighth birthday. You can read the whole letter here. He told her that when asking why, she should remember that it is Jesus who is in control. He wrote: “People die and suffer for their Christian faith all over the world and some may wonder why? But you should know the answer of WHY is WHO. It is for Jesus. He is worth the price.”
Less than a year ago, a letter he wrote to his son Jacob on his seventh birthday was published. You can read the whole letter here. He sent the letter when one of his family members was allowed to visit him in prison, ACLJ reported. He wrote: “I saw your beautiful birthday invitation that you had made me… I long to be there … but my chains are keeping me from you.”