After three years in an Iranian prison, Saeed Abedini, a Boise, Idaho, pastor, appears to be in good shape physically, according to an account given to a visiting U.S. congressman who had long advocated for his release.
But Abedini’s mental and emotional state after a long period of brutality is much more complicated, and will take some time to figure out, the congressman, Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., said.
Pittenger, an evangelical Christian who began working for Abedini’s release in September 2013, flew to Germany on Sunday after he learned that Abedini was one of four Americans to be freed as the final pieces of the Iran nuclear deal fell into place. But by Monday night, Pittenger hadn’t seen Abedini, and the congressman was uncertain when they might meet.
“It was a long journey to get him from an Iranian prison to freedom,” Pittenger told McClatchy. “But as is the case with all former hostages, it’s a longer journey back to an old life. Here, he’s taking the first step of another long journey. It’s a very challenging recovery.”
Pittenger said he did not expect to meet with Abedini for another day or two. He said Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed’s wife, is expected to arrive in Germany by Wednesday and that he believed she should meet with the pastor before he did.
His kids want their daddy back. But their daddy is a different man than he was when he went inside that prison.
Rep. Robert Pittenger
Pittenger said an initial medical examination at the Landstuhl Medical Center, a U.S. military hospital in western Germany, indicated the three prisoners freed by Iran on Saturday and flown to Germany arrived without communicable diseases, and without serious physical injuries. A fourth freed American elected to remain in Iran.
“His kids want their daddy back,” Pittenger said. “But their daddy is a different man than he was when he went inside that prison.”
He said the military doctors suspect the initial phase of Abedini’s “re-assimilation” will take five to 10 days.
Abedini was flown to the hospital with Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, from Flint, Mich., who also had been in Iranian prisons. Nosratallah Khosravi-Roodsari reportedly chose to stay in Iran. A fifth American, a student named Matthew Trevitthick, also was released, but his freedom was considered to be part of a separate arrangement and he left Iran on a commerical flight.
In return, the United States released seven Iranians, six of whom were dual U.S.-Iranian citizens, who’d been jailed for violating sanctions and lifted Interpol read notices and charges against another 14 Iranians who were not in custody.
Abedini’s case was always a delicate one because it involved religion. Abedini, who holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, converted to Christianity from Islam. He was arrested in September 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of evangelizing, a crime, the Iranian judge ruled, that was “threatening the national security of Iran.” He was reportedly beaten severely during his imprisonment and suffered internal bleeding.
Iran, which is a theocracy whose supreme leader is the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, allows Christianity, but often deals harshly with those who’ve converted from Islam, one reason Abedini was dealt with brutally.
Further complicating matters, in November, Naghmeh Abedini, wrote an email to supporters addressing what she termed were her husband’s “demons.” She wrote that throughout their marriage and increasing as he was in prison she had been subjected to “physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse (through Saeed’s addiction to pornography).”
Pittenger, who became involved in the effort to free Abedini after being contacted by Charlotte pastor David Chadwick and evangelist Franklin Graham and who sought help from a wide range of world figures including President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, noted that returning to a life after being held hostage is never easy.
“There’s the first big hug,” he said. “But where do you go from there?”
Matthew Schofield: @mattschodcnews