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Hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission - The Worsening Plight of Religious Minorities in Iran


Location: Washington, DC

Chairmen McGovern and Wolf: Thank you for taking the time to draw attention to this critical issue. As one who has been outspoken on Iran's nuclear weapons pursuit, I recognize that the human rights violations in Iran can sometimes be overshadowed in the media by other issues. Those outside the bubble of human rights work hear far too little about those who are most drastically affected by every decision of Iran's oppressive, unstable regime -- those being the peace-loving people of Iran.

But Iran's tyrannical attempts to, in the words of Ronald Reagan, "stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people" have again been exposed to the world after the imprisonment of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who was sentenced to eight years in a harsh Iranian prison while working to build an orphanage in Iran.

Martin Luther King once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," and Pastor Abedini's case has starkly shown the far-reaching implications of even a single instance of human rights abuse.

I understand Pastor Abedini's wife is with us today, and I just want to let her know that she and her family are in the hearts and prayers of so many of us. While it is manifestly impossible for me to put myself in the shoes of the Abedini family, I can say as a father that there is nothing in this life that gives me more delight than my babies. There is nothing in this world that gives me more joy than telling them stories and tucking them into bed at night. So, as I learned about Pastor Abedini, I was especially moved when I read that he liked to do the same thing. The difference, of course, is that his children, in recent nights, have constantly expressed to their mother how much they miss their daddy, because he's in an Iranian prison -- one that is notorious for torture. And all because of his Christian faith.

I also understand Saeed's son, Jacob, recently turned five. Saeed had promised Jacob they would go to Disney World together on Jacob's fifth birthday. I'm told little Jacob has had a hard time understanding why his daddy can't be there to take him to Disney World on his birthday as they had planned.

I must tell you that when I think of Jacob and his six year old sister, Rebekkah, it occurs to me that the U.S. State Department, under John Kerry, should be utterly ashamed of its failure to speak out on behalf of Saeed Abedini's and his precious family. 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. No wonder the oppressive Iranian government holds the Obama administration in such total derision as it proceeds to build nuclear weapons with which to threaten the peace and security of the entire free world.

I joined over 80 of my colleagues -- colleagues from both parties, from both the House and Senate -- on a letter to the State Department, asking them to exhaust every option in ensuring Saeed Abedini is released. And the State Department did not see fit even to respond to the letter. The letter was sent on February 12th, more than a month ago. The State Department's website lists 155 press releases that have been sent by the State Department, just since our letter was sent. Releases on everything from the 100th anniversary of Canberra, Australia, to congratulating the Republic of Mauritius on its national day, to a release entitled "Spring Break for Smart Travelers" to name just a few examples. But not a single proactive statement or response has been provided about an American citizen sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison. Furthermore, State Department declined even to send a witness to testify at today's hearing. What a disgrace.

The Obama administration is fully aware that Pastor Abedini's case is a manifest microcosm of what scores of Iranians experience on a regular basis. Religious minorities in Iran -- particularly Christians, Baha'i's, and Sufi Muslims -- must live in a constant state of fear over potential retaliation by a government that has been designated a "country of particular concern" for 14 years running.

I believe we have some media outlets in the room with us this morning. I pray those journalists who have gathered here and are covering this issue will hold the 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.

I thank both chairmen again for recognizing the desperate state of human rights and religious freedom in Iran, and I pray this hearing will help bring Pastor Abedini safely back to his family, and ultimately, I hope this hearing will lead to important strides toward a day when "the march of freedom and democracy" leaves this present Iranian regime on the "ash-heap" of history, and the noble people of Iran can at long last walk in the sunlight of freedom.

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