(RNN) – Exactly 365 days have passed since U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini was arrested and thrown into an Iranian prison.
As he's faced beatings and torture in a cell halfway around the world, his family has lobbied extensively for his release, all while he missed his children's birthdays, Christmas and other milestones common to any family.
This week, America's most prominent evangelical Christian leader, Billy Graham, wrote a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, "respectfully asking you to release Pastor Saeed Abedini from prison. Such an action would, I believe, have a positive impact in our nation, and might well be perceived by our leadership as a significant step in reducing tensions" between Iran and the United States.
The letter appeared both on Graham's website and in the New York Times.
Graham's call for Abedini's release was met with rallies in more than 70 cities across the U.S. Thursday, where supporters prayed for his freedom.
Abedini, a Christian pastor born in Iran who became an American citizen in 2010, was sentenced in January to eight years for "threatening the national security of Iran" for his involvement in an underground house church movement.
His lawyers with the American Center for Law and Justice have said he is effectively in prison for being a Christian and called his eight-year sentence in Iran's Evin Prison a death sentence because of the harsh conditions.
Abedini was doing work setting up an orphanage in Iran when he was arrested.
His family remains at their home in Idaho.
But with new Iranian leadership comes new hope that he may soon come home.
Rouhani, seemingly more moderate than his inflammatory predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been at the United Nations in New York this week and Iran said on Monday that the country has freed 80 political prisoners.
Abedini's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, flew to New York, coincidentally staying at the same hotel as Rouhani, and she hand-delivered a letter to his delegation that her husband had written from his cell.
"I would say this is the best platform for him to prove his words, that he is moderate and that he wants to bring more freedom to the Iranian people and that he does want to free a lot of the political prisoners," Naghmeh Abedini told CNN on Tuesday.
In an editorial to be published in Friday's Wall Street Journal, Naghmeh Abedini wrote that she and her husband, through the building of the orphanage, are "committed to serving the poor and abandoned children of Iran."
"In a recent letter to you, my husband wrote how our attempts to ... build an orphanage was 'meant only to reduce pain and suffering' and give 'compassion for the poor, orphans and unaccompanied children' of Iran. In his plea for compassion, he noted the irony that he went 'to Iran to serve the orphans,' yet Iran's unjust actions have, for over a year, robbed his own children of a parent."
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