KARAH, Iran (Christian Examiner) -- An American pastor jailed in Iran for converting from Islam to Christianity was beaten last week by fellow prisoners who also destroyed a small table where he studies and reads, according to the American Center for Law and Justice.
Pastor Saeed Abedini was hit in the face near his nose and left eye as he was attempting to leave his cell before prison guards intervened. His eyes were blackened, and a prison doctor thankfully tended to him, the ACLJ said.
It wasn't the first time, though, that Abedini has been beaten simply because he is a Christian.
"Over the course of his nearly three years in prison, he has suffered numerous beatings, including from prison guards," Jordan Sekulow of the ACLJ wrote at the legal organization's website. "He has sustained internal injuries that require surgery. With each beating, his condition worsens. He is suffering because of his Christian faith, beaten and bruised for the Gospel."
Abedini is in the middle of an 8-year prison term, and his boldness in the face of persecution has inspired Christians throughout the world. He once lived in Idaho and holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Iran.
His wife, Naghmeh, has met with President Obama and also has appeared before a Congressional committee, urging support for his case.
"It is heartbreaking to me and my family that Saeed was again beaten in prison," she said. "Saeed's life is continuously threatened not only because he is an American, but also because he is a convert from Islam to Christianity. It's time to get Saeed home before it is too late."
He is one of four Americans the ACLJ says are wrongfully imprisoned in Iran.
In her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month, Naghmeh said she is "trying to be strong" for her children, but told the representatives, "I need your help."
"I cannot bear to look at my children's longing eyes one more time and explain to them why their daddy is still not home," she said. "I cannot bear to see their hopes crushed again. I cannot imagine my husband spending yet another day in an Iranian prison. ...Today, I ask you to stand with him as he stands for his faith in Jesus. This is the time that Saeed needs his country the most. Please do not abandon him."
Naghmeh didn't shy away from her faith during her testimony.
"When you are living a nightmare no religion in the world can help you," she said. "The do's and don'ts of religion cannot bring much peace and comfort. Only an intimate relationship with our Maker can bring about the supernatural peace and strength that is covering our family today. And that relationship is only possible through the acceptance of the heavy price of sin that was paid on the cross by Jesus Christ."
Obama has publicly spoken out in support of Abedini, although the ACLJ says the president needs to do more. During February's National Prayer Breakfast, Obama described meeting Naghmeh and also receiving a letter from Abedini himself.
"Abedini wrote: 'Nothing is more valuable to the body of Christ than to see how the Lord is in control and moves ahead of countries and leadership through united prayer,'" Obama said. "And he closed his letter by describing himself as 'prisoner for Christ who is proud to be part of this great nation, the United States of America that cares for religious freedom across the world.'"
Obama concluded, "We're going to keep up this work for Pastor Abedini and all those around the world who are unjustly held or persecuted because of their faith."
The ACLJ said it was encouraged by Obama's remarks, but added that the United States should tie any nuclear deal with Iran to the release of Abedini and other imprisoned Americans.
"It is vitally important that as negotiations face an imposed June 30 deadline between the United States and Iran that our government make every effort – use every tool in its diplomatic arsenal – to bring Pastor Saeed – a U.S. citizen – home to his loving wife and two young children," Sekulow said.