By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
BOISE, IDAHO (ANS) -- Saeed Abedini is in a battle for his life.
Saeed Abedini and his family
According to an article by Katy Moeller for the Idaho Statesman, the 32-year-old has languished in Iran's notorious Evin Prison for more than 200 days. He was convicted of "threatening the national security of Iran" for his involvement in Christian home churches from 2000 to 2005.
His parents are allowed to visit him weekly, and they say he's enduring beatings and other torture. He has suffered internal bleeding and needs medical treatment, according to the American Center for Law and Justice.
Tiffany N. Barrans, international legal director for the nonprofit advocacy center, said it has petitioned to have the Red Cross come in as a third party to treat him.
"That has not been granted by the Iranian authorities," the Idaho Statesman reported Barrans said.
Saeed, a Boise resident with his wife and two children since 2006, was in Iran doing humanitarian work when he was imprisoned in September. In January, he was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The Idaho Statesman said Saeed has told authorities that if he is freed, he will leave Iran and never return, Barrans said. That didn't help his case.
As hopeless as the situation appears, Barrans said there's reason to be optimistic about his release. A decision on Saeed's appeal is pending.
"It gives the Iranian government an out, to save face," the Idaho Statesman reported Barrans said of the possibility that his sentence will be overturned. "They want to look like a country that is following the rule of law."
It's important to get Saeed released before Iran's elections in June.
"During and around those elections, the Iranian government is not going to want to release anyone who is seen as oppositional," the Idaho Statesman reported Barrans said.
Barrans said the key to Saeed's safe release is pressure from other countries - particularly those that have ties to Iran, including Qatar, Italy, Argentina and Brazil.
The Idaho Statesman said the American Center for Law and Justice is seeking support from those nations, and the group hopes the U.S. State Department is doing the same behind the scenes.
One positive new development, Barrans said, is that human rights groups within Iran haven taken up Saeed's cause.
"If there is enough stir in Iran - in their media and social media - it may cause unrest," Barrans said. "They may decide it's not worth the unrest during their elections, if this one man's case could disrupt that peace."
Keeping the Pressure On
The Idaho Statesman said more than half a million people have signed an online petition calling for Saeed's release.
Friends at his church in Boise are doing what they can to help.
"We have a constant flow of letters going to Iran, so they know he's not forgotten," said Rhett Allen, assistant director of children's ministry at Boise's Calvary Chapel.
Some of those letters have been written by children from the church, he said. The church is selling neon yellow "Save Saeed" T-shirts for $20 at its bookstore.
"We're exercising every resource that we have," the Idaho Statesman reported Allen said. "We serve a good God, and we know he can do miracles."
Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, is doing a lot of public speaking, hoping to keep her husband's plight in the public eye.
The Idaho Statesman said a regular on Fox News, she tries to limit travel outside the state to just once a month so that she's not away from the couple's two children, ages 6 and 5.
Naghmeh said most of the money raised on her family's behalf has gone to others who need it more. She said she's sent it to a group of Christian families - associated with her husband - who fled from Iran to Turkey.
"I feel responsible for them," she said.
Raised in Idaho, Married in Iran
Naghmeh (Panahi) Abedini, 36, was born in Iran but grew up in the Treasure Valley.
The Idaho Statesman said her family fled during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Today, her father runs a user-interface manufacturing company called PKG User Interface Solutions in Meridian.
Naghmeh graduated from Centennial High School in 1995, and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Puget Sound. She had her sights set on medical school.
Through Calvary Chapel, the Idaho Statesman said, she did some missionary work in her 20s, including a trip to India, and felt God calling her to do the same in her native Iran.
Her parents were stunned at her decision.
"They felt I was going backward. 'We brought you here so you could flourish as a woman and be a doctor,'" she recalled.
The Idaho Statesman said she comes from a well-educated, high-achieving family. Her twin brother earned a doctorate in quantum physics from the University of Chicago.
Naghmeh went to Iran in late 2001 and met Saeed at a Christian gathering in 2002. They had a Christian wedding in Iran in 2004.
The Idaho Statesman said persecution of Christians intensified after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president, and they decided in 2005 that it was time to move to Idaho. Naghmeh was pregnant with their first child.
The couple live at Naghmeh's parents' house in West Boise. An ordained pastor, Saeed participated in Christian ministry in Iran via Skype.
In 2009, the Idaho Statesman said, Saeed and his family visited Iran. He was detained at the airport on their way home. He was interrogated every day for two months about his activities with the home churches.
The Idaho Statesman said Iranian officials warned him to stop his involvement with the home churches. However, they said he could do nonreligious humanitarian work and continue to travel back and forth between Iran and the U.S., Naghmeh said.
From 2009 to 2012, Naghmeh said, Saeed complied with the Iranian government's demands. Last summer, he was in Iran to build an orphanage on family land in the city of Rasht near the Caspian Sea.
"It was a big surprise when he was arrested," the Idaho statesman reported Naghmeh said.
Wife Warned Not to Go to Iran
Until he was imprisoned, Saeed was able to talk to his wife and children via Skype and telephone.
The Idaho Statesman reported Naghmeh said her first instinct was to go to Iran to be there for her husband. Officials warned her in-laws against that.
"They said, 'If she sets foot in this airport, she's going straight to prison,'" the Idaho Statesman reported Naghmeh said.
That's because she's a Muslim who converted to Christianity and was involved in Christian house churches in Iran with her husband years ago, she said.