For Naghmeh Abedini, it was a celebration more than three years in the making. The dream that her husband, Pastor Saeed, would be free from Iranian captivity finally came true on Saturday, which was also (fittingly) Religious Freedom Day in America. Since 2012, the mom of two had been pleading with U.S. officials to intervene in the case — even quitting her job and traveling the country holding rallies for his release. Now, she and her family are swapping their tears, vigils, and prayers for joy at the news that President Obama himself called to confirm.
“I wanted to say thank you to all of you for having prayed and have wept with us, have signed petitions and have called your government officials,” Naghmeh told a world of supporters. “Thank you for having stood with our family during this difficult journey.” Unfortunately, that journey isn’t over — not for Saeed, and not for thousands of persecuted Christians around the world. As Pastor Abedini is treated for the emotional and physical torture he endured, Americans everywhere should be horrified that those scars were inflicted at the hands of a regime our president is doing business with.
The five Americans’ release was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal Iranian deal that’s dangerously close to becoming a reality. And while the country rejoices in the captives’ return, many argue that it came at a significant cost. Instead of demanding their release as a condition of discussing sanctions, the Obama administration once again bargained from a position of weakness, agreeing to let seven Iranian criminals go in the process. “This is a one-time arrangement,” said one U.S. official in describing the prisoner swap. “It’s not a precedent for the future.”
But it’s certainly been a pattern of the past. A nation that prided itself on not negotiating with terrorists seems quite comfortable doing so now, as several of the GOP presidential candidates pointed out. “In this instance, this deal to bring back Americans who were wrongly imprisoned, we released seven terrorists who had helped Iran with their nuclear program, and we agreed not to prosecute another 14 terrorists for doing the same thing,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) argued. “That’s 21 terrorists helping Iran develop nuclear weapons that they intend to use to try to murder us.” Others, like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), worry about the administration’s recklessness. “Governments are taking Americans hostage because they believe they can gain concessions from this government under Barack Obama,” he told reporters. “It’s an incentive for more people to do this in the future… The message it sends is, ‘If you take an American hostage, Barack Obama will cut a deal with you, whether it’s Bergdahl, what he did with the Castro brothers, and now what he’s done with Iran.”
And while everyone is thrilled for the Americans’ release, people can’t help but be troubled that we traded anything for innocent citizens — who, unlike those 21 Iranians — should have never been detained in the first place! The president exchanged men who engaged in illegal activity that aided Iran in developing weapons of terror for a U.S. Christian who teaches love, redemption, and forgiveness. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders praised the deal, saying, “We got our prisoners back.” But at what price?
For now, we offer our deepest appreciation to the members of Congress, churches, and so many of you who worked to bring attention to the plight of Pastor Abedini. Iran and the nations of the world must understand that we won’t leave behind any American who is in a foreign prison simply for standing up for a God-given human right. Let’s hope Saeed’s release will prod the Obama administration to give religious freedom an even greater priority, as Christians and other minorities throughout the Middle East and around the world cry out to not be forgotten.
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