Pastor Saeed Abedini faces grave new danger

In a disturbing turn of events, an American Pastor imprisoned in Iran has been transferred to one of the deadliest prisons in the world, placing this U.S. citizen’s life in grave danger.

We have written before about the plight of Pastor Saeed Abedini who has been sentence to eight years in prison because of his Christian faith. The ACLJ represents the Abedini family in the U.S.

For more than a year, the 33-year-old pastor, husband and father of two has been incarcerated in Evin Prison, one of the worst prisons in the world. He has endured mental and physical torment – including beatings at the hands of his captors that resulted in internal bleeding and other serious injuries.

As hard as it is to imagine, his transfer from Evin in Tehran to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj puts him in even more danger. Rajai Shahr is known in the international human rights community as the prison where prisoners of conscience are sent to disappear.

Pastor Saeed went from sharing a prison cell with political prisoners to being surrounded by ruthless murderers. Prisoners who the Islamic Republic of Iran deems as inconvenient are often murdered or never heard from again after being sent to this prison.

Though months ago such a move was threatened as Iranian officials pressured Pastor Saeed to recant his faith in Christ and convert to Islam, the transfer, which occurred Sunday, was abrupt and unexplained.

Pastor Saeed’s family in Iran who had been regularly able to visit him once a week was told he had inexplicably been transferred and was denied the ability to see him.

This deeply disturbing development not only cuts him off from contact with his Iranian family but poses a severe danger to Pastor Saeed’s life.

One diplomat described Rajai Shahr Prison in these unmistakably grave terms:

Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human rights activists and the press. In Rajaï Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don’t hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence.

There is no more critical time in the fight for this U.S. citizen’s freedom – his very life – than now.

President Obama boldly took the opportunity to bring up Pastor Saeed’s name in the first phone conversation between our respective presidents since 1979.

There was hope that this conversation would lead to his immediate release as Iran sought to show the world that it was changing, as Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani asserted himself as a moderate.

However, this week opponents of freedom took the streets for a “Grand Day of Death to America” on the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979.

It is critical that President Obama renew his efforts with Iran and take immediate and decisive diplomatic action. Hope is far from extinguished.

Already a bipartisan resolution has been introduced in the Senate. Sponsored by Senators Jim Risch (R-ID), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the resolution calls “on the Government of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini and all other individuals detained on account of their religious beliefs.”

The U.S. State Department too has expressed concern about this disturbing turn of events:

We are aware of and concerned about reports that U.S.-Iranian citizen Saeed Abedini, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs, has been transferred from Evin prison to Rajai Shahr prison . . . . We also repeat our call on Iran to release Mr. Abedini . . . .

The cause of religious liberty and the case of Pastor Saeed’s wrongful imprisonment crosses all religious, cultural, and political boundaries. It is the fight for the most basic of human rights.

Now more than ever it is critical for our government do everything within its power to bring this U.S. citizen, this religious hostage in Iran, home to his family.

The words of Pastor Saeed’s wife Nagheh are poignant:

The news of Saeed’s transfer to this prison is most difficult to bear. He is truly defenseless in this prison – defenseless from the abuse and violence of other prisoners – defenseless from a radical government that continues to violate his rights. I am grateful for everything our government has done in the past – but now during this most dangerous and uncertain time – I once again call on our government – including President Obama – to fight for Saeed’s life and his freedom – to fight for this U.S. citizen.

As we urge renewed action from our nations leaders, tens of thousands of Americans are signing an urgent petition to President Obama at asking him to use every effort to fight for Pastor Saeed’s freedom.

Now is the time to pray and to have our voices heard. We must not allow this U.S. citizen to be forgotten.