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By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry is calling for the release of an Iranian-American minister from a Tehran prison, a welcome step for advocates who had accused the State Department of being “AWOL” on the case.

“I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” Kerry said in a statement released March 22.

“I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire.”

Kerry said such treatment violates “international norms” and Iran’s laws.

“The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released,” Kerry concluded.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Washington law firm that is representing Abedini’s wife, welcomed his involvement.

Kerry and his department came under fire at a March 15 Capitol Hill hearing on Iran’s treatment of religious minorities when the State Department did not send a representative, citing “scheduling conflicts.” Naghmeh Abedini, who lives with her two children in Idaho, met with State officials after the hearing.

“I am hopeful that this will put more pressure on the Iranian government to act and free Saeed so he can return to our family in the United States,” she said in a statement after Kerry called for her husband’s release.

In a letter posted on the ACLJ’s website, Saeed Abedini, 32, spoke of being beaten and housed in a “dark room void of any natural sunlight.”

“I did not recognize myself” when he looked in a mirror after being beaten, Abedini said. “My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown.”

The day before Kerry’s statement, Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, called for Iran to release Abedini “and others who are unjustly imprisoned.”

From the April 2013 Report from the Capital. Click here for the next article.