(RNS) Saeed Abedini, a pastor jailed in Iran since 2012 for allegedly trying to set up house churches, was one of four Iranian-Americans freed on Saturday (Jan. 16) in a prisoner deal with the U.S. linked to the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.
Abedini’s cause has been championed by Christians in the U.S., especially evangelicals, who have pressured the Obama administration to work for his release.
The president was frequently criticized for not making Abedini’s release a condition of the pact aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
But for some of Abedini’s supporters his cause was complicated when his wife, Naghmeh, last November revealed that her husband had abused her physically, emotionally and sexually, for years and was addicted to porn.
Nahmeh Abedini was among the first to report his release via Twitter.
Iran first announced that it released four Iranian-Americans, and in exchange the U.S. said it would drop or stop pursuing charges against seven Iranians for violating sanctions against Teheran.
The first prisoner to be confirmed was Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who spent 18 months in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Iranian media then reported that Abedini, 35, from Boise, Idaho, was also among those freed.
The two other two freed are Amir Hekmati, 32, a Marine veteran from Flint, Mich., imprisoned since August 2011; and a man named Nosratollah Khosavi-Roodsari, whose imprisonmnet had not been publicized.
The other Iranian-American who had been known to be in Iranian custody, Siamak Namazi, a businessman in his 40s, who has been held without any known charges since October, was not included in the deal.
American officials had pushed to include the release of the prisoners in the nuclear deal worked out last year but were unsuccessful.
There were expectations that improving ties following the deal could lead to their release, and Saturday’s developments came as the International Atomic Energy Agency prepared to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. That it turn triggered steps to lift U.N. sanctions against the country and return an estimated $50 billion in frozen Iranian funds.
Tens of billions more in frozen funds are to be used to pay Iranian debts.