'Persecuted' Filmmakers Raising Money to Buy Home for Family of Imprisoned Pastor

Saeed Abedini converted from Islam to Christianity and was helping to build an orphanage in Iran when he was arrested, tortured and sentenced to eight years in prison.

The filmmakers behind Persecuted, an upcoming film about government agents in pursuit of a wrongly accused televangelist, are helping to raise money to build a house for the family of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor imprisoned and beaten in Iran because of his religious beliefs.

Persecuted, produced by Gray Frederickson, the Oscar-winning producer of The Godfather Part II, opens July 18. However, a $10-a-seat screening Tuesday night in Rancho Mirage, Calif., has been arranged through Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel, with all proceeds to go to Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, and the couple's two young children, who are living with Naghmeh's parents in Boise, Idaho. The church already has raised $190,000, enough to buy or build a decent house in Boise, but the filmmakers are hoping to raise more to cover moving costs, incidentals and perhaps a bigger home than previously planned.

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"Naghmeh also is holding out hope that Saeed can be with her to buy the house. He's in a hospital pretty beat up, which could be the precursor to the Iranians setting him free," said Jerel Hagerman, pastor of Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel.

Abedini converted from Islam to Christianity 14 years ago and, despite Iran's reputation of mistreating religious converts, he visited the country multiple times to set up underground Christian churches. In 2012, though, he was in Iran to help establish an orphanage when he was arrested.

Since then, he has been tortured, denied medical treatment for being Christian and therefore "unclean," placed for weeks on end in solitary confinement and sentenced to eight years in prison, though the exact crime he was convicted of remains murky. The Obama administration condemned his conviction and has called on the Iranian government to release him.

Persecuted, distributed by Millennium Entertainment, stars former GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson, Bruce Davison, Dean Stockwell, Raoul Trujillo and Fox News host Gretchen Carlson. Directed by Daniel Lusko, the movie features James Remar as a prominent Christian pastor who is framed for a crime he didn't commit after he refuses to publicly support a powerful U.S. senator.

"Movies come and go and filmmakers like me don't face much persecution. But men and women like the Abedinis face persecution and death every single day," Lusko said.

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On the Persecuted website, the filmmakers draw a comparison between their movie and several instances of Christians embroiled in controversy, such as David and Jason Benham, who lost their show at HGTV because they spoke against same-sex marriage and abortion.

"Remember the good old days where smear tactics only worked in politics?" asked Brad Stine, an associate producer and cast member on Persecuted. "I'm curious to see what future businesses, if any, are ever going to have the courage to not be intimidated every time someone yells, 'Hate.' "

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com