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Tuesday May 31st, 2016 4:17AM

American pastor sentenced to 8 years in Iran

By The Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- An American pastor who has been jailed in Iran since September has been sentenced to eight years in prison, the U.S. State Department said Sunday.

Spokesman Darby Holladay said the department is calling on Iran to respect Saeed Abedini's human rights and release him.

Earlier this month, Iran's semi-official news agency, ISNA, quoted Abedini's attorney, Nasser Sarbazi, as saying his client stood trial in the Revolutionary Court on charges of attempting to undermine state security by creating a network of Christian churches in private homes.

The pastor, who is of Iranian origin but lives in Boise, Idaho, has rejected the charges.

"Mr. Abedini's attorney had only one day (Jan. 21) to present his defense, so we remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of Mr. Abedini's trial," Holladay said.

Following the court presentation, ISNA quoted Sarbazi as saying the court would issue its verdict later, and that Abedini would be allowed to leave Iran and meet his family in the U.S. after posting bail.

"The promise of his release was a lie," said the pastor's wife, Naghmeh. "With today's development, I am devastated for my husband and my family. We must now pursue every effort, turn every rock, and not stop until Saeed is safely on American soil."

Her comments were provided by the Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice, which focuses on constitutional and human rights law around the world. The center is representing the pastor's family in the United States.

Holladay said the State Department is in close contact with Abedini's family and actively engaged in the case. Abedini and his wife have two children.

"We condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion," Holladay said.
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