TEHRAN, Iran An Iranian-born pastor who is a U.S. citizen is undergoing physical and mental torture in a notoriously brutal Tehran prison while an international campaign for his release mounts, according to the American Center for Law and Justice.
Saeed Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison for establishing a network of Christian house churches years ago and for "attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam." Since his conviction Jan. 27, Abedini has not been allowed to communicate with his wife and two children who live in the United States.
The pastor's Iranian relatives were allowed to visit him in prison Feb. 4, according to FoxNews.com, and he expressed apprehension and concern about his future. Abedini asked if there were international efforts to secure his freedom, the news network said, adding that his downtrodden spirit "is due to abuse and brainwashing techniques used by prison officials."
"It is no surprise that the Iranian prison guards are engaging in this kind of psychological abuse," Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ's executive director, told FoxNews.com. "We know that Pastor Saeed is undergoing physical beatings and torture. And we know there is growing concern about his health.
"Now, a troubling report that the guards are trying to take away his hope by feeding him false information about his fate trying to convince him that no one cares, that efforts to secure his freedom have ceased," Sekulow said.
ACLJ is leading international efforts to secure the pastor's release, including launching the website SaveSaeed.org and on Twitter promoting #SaveSaeed.
When Abedini's wife Naghmeh heard of her husband's crushed hopes, she told ACLJ, "When I heard this from my husband, I cried. It broke my heart. Behind those walls he feels helpless and relies on us to be his voice. It is so easy to feel forgotten in the walls of the prison. Please help me make sure he is never forgotten."
As of Saturday (Feb. 9), more than 178,000 people had signed a petition at SaveSaeed.org asking the United Nations, European Union and Council of Europe to mobilize their resources to require Iran to honor its treaties and its constitution and release the pastor.
ACLJ also has enlisted the help of U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., and Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., toward freeing Abedini. Rubio was instrumental in obtaining a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry during his confirmation process supporting the pastor.
"I, along with the U.S. government, condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and release him," Kerry said. "The Department of State is in close contact with the Abedini family and is actively engaged on this case."
Graham wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to intervene in the American citizen's case and stating that the situation "is symbolic of the gross injustice against all Christians in Iran today."
"It is imperative that you personally add your voice to those calling for Pastor Abedini's immediate and unconditional release," Graham told Obama. "There is no better symbol of American values, specifically freedom of religion, or demonstration of loyalty to the welfare of our citizens abroad than vocal and sustained support directly from the president of the United States."
Sekulow, in a blog post Feb. 5, said Abedini's attorney filed an appeal in Tehran, but it could take considerable time for the Iranian court to act.
"It's important to note, though, as we saw in the case of Pastor Youcef, appeals in these cases often lack any semblance of due process and justice, and are frequently no more than a rubber stamp of the initial unjust trial," Sekulow said, referring to Youcef Nadarkhani, who was imprisoned in Iran on apostasy charges last year.
In addition to ACLJ's legal and diplomatic efforts to free Abedini, the advocacy organization has launched an international social media effort to raise awareness of his plight.
Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, TobyMac, Bart Millard of MercyMe and other musicians and concerned citizens have joined the effort. Videos of the musicians speaking on behalf of Abedini are posted at SaveSaeed.org.
ACLJ believes that the more people are calling for Abedini's release, the more international media, governments and world leaders are willing to put pressure on Iran to grant his freedom.
Sekulow urged people to sign the petition, share Abedini's story and pray for the pastor and his family.