Speak up for Saeed Abedini, Mr. President

Barack Obama has never been shy about speaking up for causes he???s passionate about. In just the past few days, we???ve heard from the president on everything from gun rights and immigration amnesty to head injuries in football.

But there is one cause for which Obama???s words could make a world of difference but about which he has so far not found his voice: the case of Saeed Abedini.

Abedini is a Christian pastor who last week was sentenced to eight years in prison by an Iranian court. Abedini???s alleged crime? Preaching the gospel in Iran.

Abedini, who denies the charge, was sentenced in a sham trial during which his lawyer got just one day to present his case.

Oh and I forgot to mention: Abedini is an American citizen.

Abedini was born in Iran and converted to Christianity 13 years ago. Abedini and his future wife became leaders in the Christian underground church. Persecuted for their work, the Abedinis moved to the United States and eventually became American citizens.

The 34-year-old father of two has made several trips back to Iran to visit his extended family and do charity work. During his most recent trip in September, Abedini was arrested and put under house arrest, then thrown into prison, where he has remained for five months. He???s accused of evangelizing to non-Christians.

Last week, Abedini received his eight-year sentence from the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Iran for ???threatening Iran???s national security.??? He is expected to serve his time in Tehran???s notorious Evin prison, where most of Iran???s political prisoners are kept in solitary confinement.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing the pastor and his family in America, says Abedini has been beaten and tortured while in Iranian custody.

As the ACLJ has noted, Abedini???s sentence not only disregards his basic human rights and numerous international agreements. It also violates Iran???s own constitution, which recognizes Christianity as a minority religion whose adherents ???within the limits of the law, are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education.???

The Iranian constitution also requires the government ???to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms and the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights.???

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, recently confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry, White House spokesman Jay Carney and other important American diplomatic players have condemned Abedini???s unjust imprisonment and prosecution and called for his release.

But their boss, President Obama, has been virtually silent.

The president has a special obligation to speak up on behalf of American citizens whose rights are being violated. As Senator Lindsey Graham wrote in a letter to Obama:

???[I]t is imperative that you personally add your voice to those calling for Pastor Abedini???s immediate and unconditional release. There is no better symbol of American values, specifically freedom of religion, or demonstration of loyalty to the welfare of our citizens abroad than local and sustained support directly from the President of the United States.???

Obama once said that part of his job as president was to defend Islam. Sadly, speaking up for oppressed Christians has never been one of his priorities, to put it mildly. When in March 2011 Obama delivered his third annual Persian new year message, he lamented that Iran???s Baha???i community and Sufi Muslims are ???punished for their faith.??? But he neglected to mention the persecution of Christians in Iran.

In its recently-released 2012 World Report, Human Rights Watch catalogs many of Iran???s human rights violations, including its brutal treatment of religious minorities. According to the report, Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations??? special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, says Iran???s authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 300 Christians since June 2010.

And according to the U.S. Commission on International Religion Freedom (USCIRF), religious freedom in Iran ???continued to deteriorate??? for religious minorities in 2012, and that the number of anti-Christian incidents ???increased significantly.???

???The government of Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused,??? the USCIRF noted in its most recent report.

The USCIRF ???urges the U.S. government to remain vocal and vigorously speak out???about deteriorating human rights and religious freedom conditions, and to demand the release of all prisoners of conscience.???

The U.S. does not have official diplomatic relations with Iran, and the Islamic regime???s quest for nuclear weapons make it America???s most sensitive diplomatic challenge.

But the president simply cannot remain silent in the midst of such an egregious violation of the basic human rights of an American citizen.

Obama has spoken thousands of words in recent days about the need to recognize and grant citizenship to thousands of illegal immigrants in the U.S. It???s time for the president to utter a few on behalf of a legal immigrant and American citizen whose very life hangs in the balance.

More than 250,000 people have signed the ACLJ???s petition calling on President Obama to use all available diplomatic and legislative action to pressure Iran to release Saeed Abedini. You can join them here.

Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.