Once again, Naghmeh Abedini had to explain to her children that she would be leaving their Idaho home to try to get Daddy back.
Abedini was one of four family members of American citizens detained or missing in Iran who shared the story of their loved ones Tuesday before a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting layered with discontent over the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Her husband, Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor from Boise, Idaho, has been in prison in Iran since 2012, and she’s been traveling the world trying to get him released.
“My children have been without a father or a mother for three years,” Naghmeh Abedini said. “They are desperately holding me and asking me not to go. I had to tell them that it’s for Daddy.”
The family members said they felt a sense of urgency for the release of the prisoners while the U.S. and Iran are still at the negotiating table. The deadline for reaching a nuclear accord is June 30.
“I think the next few weeks are a crucial time,” Abedini said. “If we don’t get them out now, then we won’t have leverage.”
Abedini was joined by Ali Rezaian, the brother of more recently imprisoned Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian; Sarah Hekmati, the sister of former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, who faces 10 years in an Iranian prison, and Daniel Levinson, the oldest son of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, a Coral Springs, Fla., resident who’s been missing in Iran for eight years.
Following the testimony, committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., introduced a resolution calling for the immediate release of the U.S. citizens and asking for any information regarding the missing Levinson.
The hearing also became a forum for the representatives to voice their reservations about the nuclear negotiations.
“If top Iranian officials can’t be counted on to assist these wrongfully jailed Americans, can they be counted on to honor the commitments they make at the negotiating table?” Royce said.
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., offered a similar view, questioning whether Iran’s promises can be trusted while it’s still holding Americans as prisoners. Others talked about how the prisoners should be freed in the negotiations.
“It would be ludicrous and outrageous for us to have a deal with Iran that doesn’t bring home these Americans,” said Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the committee’s ranking Democrat.
Abedini said she worried that once a deal was completed, “there won’t be any urgency to get our loved ones home.”
“I appreciate that they’re being discussed on the sidelines, but they’re still not home,” Abedini said. “Where is the action?”
Saeed Abedini, who’s 35, was born in Iran and converted to Christianity from Islam in 2000. He and his wife moved to Idaho, where she grew up, in 2005 and he became a U.S. citizen in 2010.
He was on a trip to visit family when he was arrested, accused of undermining national security through private religious gatherings. He reportedly has been beaten in prison and has spent much of his time there in solitary confinement.
Naghmeh Abedini told the committee that the past three years have been difficult.
“Most mornings I wake up in a hotel room or airport and I realize the reality of my life,” she said.
The other family members also shared stories of their loved ones. Ali Rezaian put an Oakland Athletics hat on the table and said he hoped his brother would be home to take his son to an A’s game. Jason Rezaian faces up to 10 years in prison.
Amir Hekmati was originally sentenced to death. His sentence was reduced to 10 years on appeal.
“I want to be very clear: While our family takes issue with the actions of a certain faction of the Iranian regime, we know this is not a reflection of the government as a whole, nor of its people,” Sarah Hekmati said.
Hekmati’s voice wavered as she talked about her father, who’s been diagnosed with a brain tumor since his son’s jailing. “Our father holds on, hoping to hold Amir in his arms again, but fearful that he will not,” she said.
Even if the prisoners gain their freedom, the families’ worries won’t end.
“My biggest worry as a wife and mother is the condition I will have to deal with when he returns home,” Abedini said.