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Demand Diplomatic Action for U.S. Citizens Unjustly Imprisoned Abroad

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Petty theft in California is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1000 fine, minimum six months in prison or both. Rape is a first degree felony that can land one a minimum of five years in prison in Ohio, if proven the act was forced on the victim. Premeditated murder calls for life in prison, with no chance of parole in Maryland.

 

And in some parts of the world, expressing one's religion and spreading related literature can land one 8-15 years in prison. 

 

These prison terms were handed to two naturalized American citizens this year: Saeed Abedini (lower left), 33, in Iran, and Kenneth Bae (right), 44, in North Korea. Both were sentenced for allegedly threatening the security of each country with religious activities.

 

Bae, an Oregon resident also known as Bae Jun Ho, was arrested in November 2012 while serving as a tour operator in North Korea. He was carrying a computer hard disk with “sensitive” information, reported CNN, possibly of North Korean orphans.

 

Bae was charged for plotting a coup called “Operation Jericho” to topple the regime, for “infiltrating” 250 students in the North Korean city of Rason (media outlets are unclear of this charge’s meaning), and for smuggling in a National Geographic documentary called “Don’t Tell My Mother That I Am in North Korea.”  He was sentenced  to 15 years hard labor last month, in a “special prison” in the country. His arrest may have been related to encouraging North Koreans to publicly practice and express their Christian faith.

 

Meanwhile, Iranian-born, Abedini, was charged in January with threatening the security of Iran by preaching Christianity, according to the UK’s Daily Mail. The Idaho resident was preaching in house churches and opening a secular orphanage, until transitions in government to led sweeping reforms against Christian groups. He was arrested in August 2012.

 

Abedini is currently serving an 8-year sentence in Evin Prison in Tehran. It is home to 15,000 inmates, and reported tortures, beatings and mock executions. He spent a week in solitary confinement ealier this month, where he turned 33 years old. During that time, the prison received over 50,000 birthday messages.

 

Senator James Risch of Idaho and Senator Mark Kirk of Ill., have collaborated with Canadian Parliament Member Irwin Colter to highlight the plight of political prisoners in Iran. In the Iranian Political Prisoners Global Advocacy Project, a member of Parliament chooses a political prisoner to address publicly in order to set him or her free. Risch and his team have chosen to actively advocate for Pastor Abedini.

 

According to Fox News, Muslims who convert to Christianity can be sentenced to death by both legal decrees and the Constitution in Iran. Conversely, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 18 says that one is free to change one’s religion—a universal right. Furthermore, religious expression, and sharing of related material, even persuasion, not coercion—is protected under international law.

 

 

Government Activistim for Bae in North Korea

Washington publicized a formal request to release Bae, but has not indicated it will send an envoy of prominent figures for diplomatic purposes due to tensions related to North Korea’s December 2012 missile tests. 

 

Since his arrest, high-profile figures outside of the US government have attempted to visit Bae and seek his release during trips to the country.

 

In January, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson visited North Korea to discuss more internet and cellphone access, and Bae’s release. 

 

A few weeks later, Dennis Rodman met and sat courtside with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during Bae’s imprisonment. After returning from the isolated country, Rodman Tweeted in May for the leader to “do [him] a solid” and release Bae. There was no response, though Rodman says he is planning a return trip in August.

 

US officials believe that Bae is being used to lure in high-profile diplomats, to lead US officials to step back from their criticism of North Korea’s nuclear programs.  

 

North Korea is notorious for religious oppression, having sentenced Christian converts to be crushed alive by steamrollers, as reported by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2005, to be executed by firing squad for distributing Bibles, and sent to and sometimes tortured to death in prison for sharing related beliefs. 

 

 

Abedini and Religious Oppression in Iran

The American Center for Law and Justice, a US Christian center that advocates religious freedom and speech, reported on June 18 that Abedini has sustained “severe pain” in his abdomen after being beaten and tormented in prison, and is need of medical treatment. The report came from Abedini’s family, who visited him in prison earlier that week. Illinois Senator Mark Kirk also detailed that Pastor Abedini suffers from internal bleeding.

 

US diplomacy for Abedini has increased steadily from apparent inactivity since his January sentencing.

 

In March, according to the Washington Times, none of the members of the State Department showed up to a planned hearing on Abedini’s case. 

 

Only days earlier, a US official failed to address Abedini’s case at the UN Human Rights Council. 

 

Following criticism of the hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a formal plea later that month, denouncing the sentencing and imprisonment of Pastor Abedini.

 

As well, a bill, H.RES.147, was introduced in April, calling for the US to “work aggressively for the quick release of Saeed Abedini.” A full copy of the bill can be read here

 

Additionally, in June, Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, visited the UN’s Human Rights Council to appeal for her husband. She urged diplomatic action on her husband’s behalf, in light of Iran’s human rights abuses.

 

“Every day he is held in prison could lead to his death,” she pleaded. “My request is simple: that the international community joins me in crying out against his persecution.”

 

Pastor Saeed has been imprisoned for over 270 days, or 9 months. 

 

How You Can Help

Read more about Saeed Abedini’s story at savesaeed.org. The site also has a petition, which has received over 600,000 signatures. Other petitions can be signed at the following sites: Change.org and the American Center for Law and Justice.

Also, follow Abedini's bill H.RES.147 with the New York Times here. You can also start your own petition to call for increased diplomacy at the White House's petition website here.

 

Follow news of Kenneth Bae at the website www.freekennow.com, which also has social media tracking news of his imprisonment. A petition also has been set up for Bae at Change.org here. You also can start a new petitiom for increased diplomacy at the White House's website here.