Saeed Abedini, an American pastor from Idaho who has been imprisoned by Iran for over three years, was freed on Saturday in a deal made by the Obama administration that included the release of three other American prisoners in exchange for the United States releasing seven Iranians.
His wife, Naghmeh, confirmed on Twitter on Saturday morning:
It is confirmed: Saeed is released from Iranian prison.
— Naghmeh Panahi (@NaghmehSPanahi) January 16, 2016
Abedini, was detained in 2012 and later sentenced to eight years in prison on national security related charges. Along with Abedini, Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmat and Nosratollah Khosrawi Roudsari, jailed in Iran on various charges, were also released.
Jason Rezian was a correspondent with The Washington Post. He was detained for 18 months.
The 7 Iranians freed by the US have been named as Nader Modanlou, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afqahi, Arash Ghahreman, Touraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Sabounchi. They were imprisoned due to sanction violations.
Secretary of State John Kerry speaking in Vienna, Austria said, “I’m very happy to say that as we speak, we have received confirmation that five Americans who had been unjustly detained in Iran have been released from custody. And they should be on their way home to their families before long – shortly.”
“The President will have more to say about their release later. But I can tell you one thing: While the two tracks of negotiations were not directly related – and they were not – there is no question that the pace and the progress of the humanitarian talks accelerated in light of the relationships forged and the diplomatic channels unlocked over the course of the nuclear talks. And certainly in the time since we reached an agreement last July, there was a significant pickup in that dialogue,” Kerry added.
This announcement was made in conjunction with the implementation of the nuclear agreement made by the Obama administration and the Iranian government.
The White House has yet to release a formal statement from President Obama, but several Republican presidential candidates weighed in.
“Our prayers have been answered today, as Pastor Abedini will return home to his wife and children in America. Pastor Abedini is an incredibly brave man for risking his life for his Christian beliefs and I am pleased that our government did not sit idly by while an American citizen was persecuted abroad due to religious intolerance,” U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a released statement. “The United States stands as a beacon of freedom and hope for those across the globe, and as such, we must continue to fight for the safe return of those wrongfully imprisoned abroad based on their religious beliefs.”
In November 2013, Paul was an original co-sponsor of a Senate resolution calling for the government of Iran to immediately release Pastor Abedini. Following the resolution’s passage, Paul issued a letter to President Hassan Rouhani of Iran urging the release of Pastor Abedini. Sen. Paul helped bring attention to this matter and was a fierce advocate for his release.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in a released statement said, “Praise God that Christian pastor Saeed Abedini has been freed from his eight-year prison sentence for serving the Lord, spreading the Gospel and planting house churches across Iran! I join millions of Americans and his overjoyed wife Naghmeh in saying, ‘Well done Saeed! You are a faithful servant! And welcome home!”
Huckabee also leveled criticism at the Obama administration.
“But why did it take the Obama Administration so long to secure his release? He never should have been jailed and it’s embarrassing that John Kerry and Obama negotiate with Iran as innocent Americans remained locked-up in prison. President Obama is a complete fool for trusting a country that’s been lying, cheating, murdering and sponsoring terrorism around the globe for 37 years. Empowering Iran with sanctions relief is like Neville Chamberlain writing a $150 billion check to Adolf Hitler before WWII hoping he’ll behave. This Iran deal is an insane disaster and this White House has lost its mind,” Huckabee added.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted:
Thankful that prayers have been answered and Pastor Saeed, Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian and another American will finally come home.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 16, 2016
Rubio pointed out more needs to be done.
Iran needs to also help locate Floridian Robert Levinson. This hostage-taking must stop.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 16, 2016
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during a town hall meeting in Ames, IA said:
First I think, we’re all grateful, at least the reports that we hear this morning, that the Iranians have released our Americans and we have to thank god for that and pray for their safe return and pray for the strength of their families who have put up with them being separated from our country and from their families for a long time.
The concern I have, and we don’t know yet, is that the president made a trade. Now, when this president makes trades this is a big problem. This is not a guy I would let negotiate buying a car for me let alone anything else. I mean he makes bad deals and he seems to become an expert at making bad deal with the Iranians. The fact is that we shouldn’t have to trade anything to get our citizens back home. They were taken illegally by a rogue regime of Mullahs over in Iran and this is the problem with this president, he gets no respect around the world. No respect. If we had a president who was respected around the world, we wouldn’t have these folks taken in the first place.
Remember the last time we had Iranian hostages again a president that the world did not respect in Jimmy Carter and as soon as Ronald Reagan took the oath of office those Iranians returned our citizens immediately because they knew if they didn’t they would have to face the strength of character and the wrath of Ronald Reagan. We need a president like that in the White House again, who people say understands what the problems are in this country and will fight hard for our citizens.
So we have to be grateful that those folks are being sent home but we also have to scrutinize what this president gave away in the process. He’s been trading terrorists from Guantanamo Bay back into the terrorism business. This is an awful thing and this president doesn’t understand.
“I am very pleased that five American citizens, who were illegally imprisoned by Iran in flagrant violation of longstanding international human rights norms, have finally been released. I am overjoyed for the families and friends of Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmat, Saeed Abedni and two additional, unidentified Americans,” Dr. Ben Carson said in a released statement.
“However, the fact remains that President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran is fatally flawed and gravely jeopardizes the national security interests of the American people, our ally Israel and other peaceful nations in the Middle East and around the world. Furthermore, the disastrous agreement will release more than $100 billion to Iran and allow it to continue exporting terrorism around the world and threaten the United States and its allies. If I am elected President, I will withdraw from this dangerous agreement on Day One,” Carson added.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted:
Praise God! Surely bad parts of Obama's latest deal, but prayers of thanksgiving that Pastor Saeed is coming home. https://t.co/rad1VcWUml
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 16, 2016
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tweeted:
Prayers answered as American hostages coming home. Await more details on swap. They never should have been held at all.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 16, 2016
No formal statement, but Politco reported that Donald Trump suggested he should get credit for their release.