State Department officials have reportedly hesitated to intercede on behalf of an American citizen facing trial and perhaps execution in Iran due to his “Christian activities,” in part because Iran refuses to recognize the pastor’s U.S. citizenship.

“I recently learned our State Department informed Pastor Saeed Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, that it could do nothing for her husband’s case because Iran did not recognize his U.S. citizenship,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said in a statement to The Washington Examiner. Abedini’s attorney, Tiffany Barrans of the American Center for Law and Justice, told World the State Department listed that among the reasons it could not help Abedini.

“Let me be clear: under no circumstances should the U.S. State Department allow Iran to determine who is or isn’t a U.S. citizen and who the U.S. should protect,” Franks continued.  “The State Department should be doing everything possible to ensure the safety of its citizens abroad and to defend this U.S. citizen who faces trial in Iran under the harsh Iranian judicial system.” The Iranian-born pastor married an American citizen and has a family in Idaho.

The State Department has made one statement on Abedini’s case. “He was arrested by Iranian officials more than three months ago on charges related to his religious beliefs,” spokesperson Victoria Nuland said last week. “We understand that a hearing will be held soon, and we call on Iranian officials to respect Iran’s own laws and provide Mr. Abedini access to an attorney.”

The State Department said it had “no new updates” on the case when contacted about the citizenship issue by The Washington Examiner. One Republican aide said the State Department seemed to be “backing down” from Iran with respect to Abedini’s case.

Two congressional sources said that the State Department has also cited Abedini’s failure to sign a privacy release form as a reason for not asking Switzerland (the government that mediates between Iran and the United States) to press Iran about Abedini — an odd requirement, given the lack of State Department privacy release forms in Iranian prisons and the fact that his wife has submitted a privacy release form through a power of attorney, according to one source.

Abedini’s case has been assigned to one of the harshest judges in Iran. “Judge Pierre Abbasi who heads that branch,” Barrans told KTVB News in Idaho, “is specifically notorious for his brutal sentences. He’s been nicknamed the ‘hanging judge’ by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.”

Two letters have been sent this week to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by lawmakers regarding Abedini’s case. “[W]e believe there is still a great deal of good that the State Department can and should do on behalf of Mr. Abedini, one of our own citizens,” a group of House members wrote in one letter. “We believe that strong and sustained advocacy from the State Department would do much to rally the world against this wrongful detainment.”

Eleven senators, writing in their letter, emphasized that “we should not stand idly by while the Iranian regime arbitrarily persecutes a U.S. citizen who has committed no crime.”