[JURIST] An Iranian court of appeals on Sunday rejected the appeal of American pastor Saeed Abedini and refused to reduce his eight-year prison term in the Evin prison. Abedini was sentenced [JURIST report] in January by a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Iran to eight years in prison for threatening national security through his leadership in Christian house churches. Before the two-judge panel refused his appeal, Abedini's lawyers had been hopeful that his case would be shown greater leniency under the new leadership of Iranian President Hasan Rowhani [BBC profile]. Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website], who represents Abedini's wife and two children, expressed his regret [press release] over Sunday's decision, stating that it "underscores Iran's continued violation of principles of freedom of religion, association, peaceful assembly, and expression."
Abedini, 32, became a US citizen through marriage [Reuters report] in 2010 and had been traveling between the US and Iran since he was ordained a minister through the American Evangelistic Association [advocacy website] in 2008. In the summer of 2012 Iranian authorities placed Abedini on house arrest, then sent him to prison in September where he was beaten and tortured, according to the ACLJ. Judge Pir-Abassi convicted and sentenced [ACLJ report] Abedini after allowing his lawyer one day in court to put on a defense, which was also the only day of the trial Abedini and his lawyer were permitted to attend. The evidence provided by the prosecution was of Abedini's Christian activities in the early 2000s, when house churches were not perceived as such a threat to Iran's national security. Prior to the announcing of the verdict the US State Department [official website] condemned [press release] "Iran's continued violation of the universal rights of freedom of religion" and called on the Iranian authorities to respect Adebini's human rights and release him.