TEHRAN In another effort to force Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini to recant his faith, prison officials in Tehran have placed him in solitary confinement, something the American Center for Law and Justice calls "perhaps his most grave situation since his imprisonment last fall."
Abedini a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent has served time in solitary confinement in the past, telling his family it was the hardest time in his life, according to a statement by his wife Naghmeh. He explained that "every hour was like one year and that he was losing his memory and his health was deteriorating quickly," she recounted.
In addition to solitary confinement, ACLJ reported April 29 that Abedini's severe internal bleeding continues still going untreated and now his kidneys are not functioning properly.
"We have been able to confirm that the horrible conditions in Evin Prison led Pastor Saeed and a number of prisoners in Ward 350 to sign a letter expressing to prison officials their concern about the lack of medical care received and the threats and harsh treatment facing family members who come to visit," ACLJ said.
The prisoners then expressed their dissatisfaction in a peaceful, silent protest in an outside courtyard at the prison, the legal organization representing Idaho resident Naghmeh Abedini said.
The letter and peaceful protest apparently prompted prison officials to select 10 prisoners to place in solitary confinement, including Abedini, ACLJ said.
"Our sources indicate that Pastor Saeed is likely to be beaten again, in private, away from other witnesses and prisoners," Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ's executive director, wrote. "At the same time, there's concern that his kidneys are no longer operating properly, the result of the internal injuries he has received over many months."
Abedini has been told not to expect medical treatment for months, and when his family arrived at the prison Monday to visit him, they were turned away and told he was no longer allowed to have visitors, ACLJ said.
Naghmeh Abedini requested, "Please pray for his health and healing. Pray for his release. Pray that the Lord would use this for His glory and salvation of many."
Also in Sekulow's report, he conveyed comments from a former Iranian political prisoner who spent 15 years in Iranian prisons, including some time at Evin.
The former prisoner said Abedini most likely is on a list of prisoners the authorities want to break, including those who have refused to repent of their faith or confess to their crimes.
"They took Saeed to solitary confinement to put pressure on his belief and faith," the former prisoner said. "This shows that Saeed has stood strong for his faith."
In a letter obtained by ACLJ earlier in April, Abedini wrote that he was told by Iranian prison officials, "Deny your faith in Jesus Christ and return to Islam or else you will not be released from prison. We will make sure you are kept here even after your 8 year sentence is finished."
Abedini's response, he wrote, is Romans 8:35-39, which says persecution and death cannot separate a believer from Christ.
"The reality of Christian living is that difficulties or problems do arise in our lives," Abedini wrote. "Persecution and difficulties are not new occurrences, but are seen often in the Christian life. It is through the suffering and tribulations that we are to enter the Kingdom of God.
In an article published by the Idaho Statesman April 26, Tiffany Barrans, ACLJ's international legal director, said the group has petitioned to have the Red Cross enter Tehran as a third party to treat Abedini. "That has not been granted by the Iranian authorities," she said.
Barrans told the newspaper that Abedini has promised Iranian authorities that if he is freed, he will leave Iran and never return. She sees some hope that Abedini's pending appeal will go in his favor, releasing him from an eight-year prison sentence for working with house churches a decade ago.
"It gives the Iranian government an out, to save face," Barrans told the Statesman. "They want to look like a country that is following the rule of law."
A positive development, she said, is that human rights groups within Iran now have taken up Abedini's cause. If there's enough unrest regarding him on social media there, Barrans said, Iranian authorities could decide it's not worth holding such a politically volatile prisoner with elections looming in June.
The newspaper explained that Naghmeh Abedini was born in Iran but grew up in Idaho after her family fled during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. She graduated from high school in Boise and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.
Naghmeh Abedini returned to Iran in 2001 to do some mission work, the Statesman reported, and met Saeed the following year. They were married in a Christian wedding in Iran in 2004.
"Persecution of Christians intensified after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president, and they decided in 2005 that it was time to move to Idaho," the Statesman said. "Naghmeh was pregnant with their first child."
The couple lives with Naghmeh's parents in Boise, and she said her first reaction when he was arrested was to go to Iran and be with him, at least to visit once a week like his parents had been doing.
But Iranian officials warned that if she sets foot in their airport, she'll go straight to prison, the newspaper said, explaining that she's a Muslim who converted to Christianity and was involved in Christian house churches in Iran along with her husband.
Through ACLJ, more than half a million people worldwide have signed an online petition calling for Abedini's release, and more than 42,000 people have sent him birthday greetings in the form of letters that ACLJ is attempting to deliver to Evin prison for his 33rd birthday May 7.
On April 28, more than 250 people in the Idaho community of Nampa participated in a benefit walk and bicycle ride for Abedini. His wife and two children received a package of donated gifts from local businesses, the Statesman reported.
"It is our hope that whenever she uses one of these gifts, she will be reminded that her community cares," said Annette Welburn, who organized the benefit.