Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), members of Congress, and a representative from the State Department joined a prayer vigil on Thursday afternoon in front of the White House to protest Iran’s imprisonment of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor and American citizen.
Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of Abedini’s imprisonment in Iran’s Evin prison in Tehran.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Saeed," Jane Zimmerman, deputy assistant secretary for human rights at the State Department, told the assembled crowd.
"We’ve been working that issue very publically as well as privately and doing everything we can to try to secure his release," Zimmerman told the Washington Free Beacon after her remarks.
Abedini is a dual American-Iranian citizen and a Christian pastor who lived in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and two children. Abedini was in Iran last year to set up a secular orphanage when Iranian forces arrested him and sentenced him to eight years in jail for threatening national security. He recently lost his final appeal.
The imprisonment of Saeed Abedini has garnered headlines recently as Abedini’s wife delivered a letter from her husband to Iranian President Hassan Rowhani in New York asking for her husband’s release and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked Rowhani about Abedini’s imprisonment.
Rowhani was in New York for the United Nations General Convention.
"It’s a fundamental violation of universal norms and international human rights to arrest someone for their faith and their conscience," Zimmerman told the Free Beacon, "and clearly he’s a prisoner of conscience for his beliefs."
Abedini spends much of his day in solitary confinement in a jail cell measuring two feet by two feet, said Jordan Sekulow, director of international operations at the American Center for Law and Justice. The pastor has been beaten and is suffering from internal bleeding. His supporters do not expect him to survive the eight years in prison.
Sen. Cruz and several representatives from Congress joined the prayer vigil.
"Pastor Abedini’s crime was simply following his Christian faith," Cruz said.
Cruz told the crowd about a resolution he has introduced in the Senate that would allow President Barack Obama to meet with Rowhani only if he affirms Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and releases American prisoners in Iran.
Cruz then led the crowd in prayer for Abedini.
"We ask you to be with him as you were with Daniel in the lions den," Cruz prayed, alluding to the biblical story of a Jewish man who was thrown into a den of lions in Babylon for practicing his faith.
Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) criticized the Obama administration for its silence and the "disregard" it has shown for religious freedom.
While several members of Obama’s administration have spoken out about Abedini, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Obama himself has not spoken about Abedini’s detention.
Those in attendance included both Christians and non-Christians.
"Jesus Christ is not a threat to national security," said Clare Roberts, who lives in Maryland and attends a church that is related to Abedini’s in Boise. "People who uphold God’s law are a benefit to whatever country they are in."
Crawford, who asked to be identified by only his first name, came to support global religious freedom.
"I believe it’s something that should be across the world," he said.
"We hope we don’t ever have to mark a second anniversary of his detainment," Zimmerman said.