TEHRAN, Iran Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, was moved to a private hospital in Iran but was shackled and denied medical care, prompting the American Center for Law and Justice, which is working for his freedom, to say his case took a turn for the worse.
The next day, March 13, ACLJ reported that Abedini, imprisoned for his Christian faith, had been released from the shackles and was allowed to receive visitors again. He had not been treated, though, for severe abdominal ailments resulting from beatings by Iranian prison guards.
Abedini's wife Naghmeh, on Facebook, asked believers worldwide to pray and even "fast from something" until Thursday, March 20, which marks the Iranian New Year, a day when the Islamic republic often grants clemency to prisoners of conscience.
ACLJ reported March 12 that Abedini, sentenced to eight years in prison for his involvement in house churches, was moved from the brutal Rajai Shahr Prison to a hospital. He received nourishment and underwent various tests, something ACLJ called a much-needed reprieve.
"Today, all that changed," Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ's executive director, reported. "This morning Iranian guards lashed out violently against Pastor Saeed and an elderly relative who had been able to visit him in the hospital. Pastor Saeed was pinned down and shackled. His elderly relative was roughly handled and expelled from the hospital."
Abedini was denied surgery and was given only pain medication. He wasn't even allowed to know the results of the tests he underwent, ACLJ said, and guards claimed they had a court order banning visitors and instructing them to keep him shackled.
Sekulow said the timing of the move to the hospital was suspicious given that Catherine Ashton, a representative of the European Union, was visiting Iran when Abedini was hospitalized. Once she left, he was told he would return to prison with no treatment.
"The EU has been faithfully raising Pastor Saeed's case for some time, and this move would allow Iranian officials to report that he was receiving medical treatment if his case was brought up during the EU's visit to Iran," Sekulow said.
After Abedini was denied treatment and shackled, and after ACLJ drew worldwide attention to the problem, a family member of Abedini went to the prison to ask why the pastor had been denied medical care, Sekulow reported March 13.
"He was told by prison officials that the whole ordeal was a 'mistake' and that the warden called the hospital and ordered that Pastor Saeed be unchained and permitted to visit the family member."
Iran's behavior demonstrates the need for international pressure to remain strong on Abedini's behalf, Sekulow said, adding that an ACLJ legal team was meeting with world leaders in Geneva, working toward Abedini's release.
Naghmeh Abedini, living in Idaho with the couple's two young children, challenged supporters to pray for the meetings in Geneva, stating, "I believe in the power of prayer."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in February, raised the possibility that Abedini and other Americans held by Iran could be granted clemency. Abedini's wife urged believers to pray that her husband would be released in conjunction with the Iranian New Year.
The day before news of Abedini's hospital beating and shackling broke, Naghmeh Abedini posted on Facebook a glimpse into how she is faring as her husband is persecuted.
"Many nights like tonight/today I am awakened after only 3-4 hours of sleep and I find myself struggling with hopelessness and despair," Naghmeh wrote. "... I spend hours in prayer and crying out to The Lord."
Later that day, March 11, she wrote, "Today I struggled with despair. I spent my day playing worship music, reading my Bible and devotionals, praying and reading each of your sweet messages (being surrounded by the body of Christ)."
God used 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 to remind her that "these pressures and uncertainties happen that I might not rely on myself, but on God." She quoted the passage, emphasizing that "He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again."