Iranian authorities transferred a jailed American pastor into a ward reserved for political prisoners, a slight improvement over his previous detainment with violent criminals, his family said, though he remains in endangered physical condition.
Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American dual citizen, has been imprisoned since September 2012.
"There is a glimmer of comfort to know that my husband has been transferred out of the murderers' ward, but my heart aches to know the pain he continually suffers and that his injuries necessitate surgery," his wife, Naghmeh Abedini, said in a press release distributed by her attorneys at the American Center for Law and Justice. Naghmeh lives in Idaho with their children.
Abedini is being denied medical treatment for internal injuries sustained when he was beaten by his jailers early in his confinement, ACLJ's Jordan Sekulow noted, and the Iranians have made sure that he doesn't benefit too much from the upgrade to the political prisoners' ward.
"Even in this new prison ward, numerous prisoners are complaining that prison conditions are making them sick," Sekulow explained. "Since Saeed’s move, the regime has canceled or closed many of the recreational facilities, even the library, that had been available to political prisoners. The authorities have place two violent prisoners in the political prisoner ward who consistently threaten any semblance of peace. These violent prisoners have already robbed several of the prisoners in the political prisoner ward."
Secretary of State John Kerry called for the Iranians to release 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,” on March 22 after more than 80 congresspeople from both parties wrote a letter urging that he do so. But U.S. efforts have not shown much result, and Kerry told lawmakers in December he does not want to tie the fate of Abedini and other Americans being held by Iran to the ongoing nuclear talks.
“As an American citizen, Mr. Abedini deserves nothing less than the exercising of every diplomatic tool of the U.S. government to defend his basic human rights,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., wrote in the Feb. 14 letter to Kerry.
Prior to Kerry's statement, the State Department had seemed hesitant to intervene publicly on the pastor's behalf, despite his American citizenship, even going so far as to tell his wife privately that they couldn't help because Iran wouldn't recognize his status as an American.
"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 countered to the Washington Examiner.
More recently, President Obama personally spoke up for Abedini (and two other imprisoned Americans) during a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in September, a year after Abedini's imprisonment began.
The family was disappointed, however, that Obama's team didn't force the Iranians to release Abedini as part of the nuclear talks.
"His freedom has not been a top priority for the Obama administration and the U.S. State Department," Sekulow said, writing of Abedini's transfer. "We continue to believe that renewed economic sanctions on Iran may now be the best chance we have to bring Iran back to the negotiating table -- a key to Pastor Saeed's freedom."