After being treated for two months in a hospital for injuries suffered from beatings during his imprisonment, Saeed Abedini – a Christian pastor and American citizen – is being returned to Iran's Rajai Shahr prison.
“This is an extremely disappointing development - one that breaks my heart,” said Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, in a May 20 statement.
“Our family is deeply saddened and we continue to pray for Saeed – for his safety and his release.”
“We are very grateful that so many people around the world continue to pray for Saeed,” she added.
Pastor Abedini was arrested in Iran in September 2012. The Iranian government has charged him with compromising national security. However, the pastor’s supporters say he is being imprisoned for his Christian beliefs, particularly because he left the Muslim faith to become Christian.
Abedini, who was born in Iran and raised as a Muslim, converted to Christianity in 2000. He became a U.S. citizen in 2010 following his marriage to his wife Naghmeh, who is also a U.S. citizen. The couple resided in Idaho with their two children.
After his conversion, the pastor worked with house churches in Iran until government authorities raised objections. In 2009, he reached an agreement with the government by which he could move freely in the country if he abandoned the religious work. He subsequently began working with non-religious orphanages instead. It was during a visit to one of these orphanages in 2012 that he was arrested.
After sustaining injuries in prison during more than a year's captivity, Abedini was transferred to a hospital in March 2014, where “he was initially shackled by guards who lashed out violently against him,” said the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents Naghmeh.
According to family reports, he was denied appropriate medical care and family visits for weeks. In late March, near the start of the Iranian New Year, the hospital began to treat Abedini and permitted frequent family visits.
According to a statement by the ACLJ, Abedini will now be returned to Rajai Shahr prison, which has a record for holding some of the most violent and notorious criminals in Iran.
The ACLJ added that Abedini's transfer back to prison “came without any advance notice” and that the “reason for the transfer is unclear.”
The U.S. State Department and president Barack Obama have called for Abedini's release – as have nearly 260,000 people worldwide who have signed a petition for his release.