The words “thank you,” “grateful,” and “appreciative” echoed repeatedly in the Lincoln Room of the U.S. Capitol Thursday as Saeed Abedini, the Idaho pastor released last month after three years in an Iranian prison, greeted perhaps a dozen members of Congress who’d advocated for his freedom.
It was a rare public appearance for the 35-year-old Idaho resident since his Jan. 16 release. Abedini made no public statement, and there were no formal speeches.
Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., who led congressional efforts to win Abedini’s release, organized the reception for Abedini, who said he wanted personally meet and thank the members of Congress who’d advocated for his freedom.
“It really worked,” Abedini said, crediting prayers from the lawmakers said for him during his time in prison.
An Iranian court in 2013 sentenced Abedini to eight years in prison for allegedly compromising Iran’s national security when he set up home-based Christian churches. An Iranian by birth, Abedini was arrested when he returned to Iran from the United States to set up an orphanage.
Zeebandeh, who lives in Virginia, said she was in London when her brother was arrested and had been unable to see him for years. After he was released, she drove from Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina, where he stayed for a few days at a retreat run by the Rev. Franklin Graham.
“I’m so happy,” Zeebandeh said. “When someone from your family isn’t with you, you’re missing something, waiting on that piece to come back.”