(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)
After spending his 33rd birthday inside the "small dark hole" of solitary confinement, U.S. Pastor Saeed Abedini has been returned to the general prison population of Evin Prison in Iran.
"His release from solitary is a direct result of the multitudes praying. I am relieved my husband is out of solitary, but still am deeply concerned about Saeed's health. While this is a small victory, I am still demanding justice be done and that Saeed be released," Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, said in a statement posted by The American Center for Law and Justice.
The pastor, who has been in jail in Tehran since September 2012 and was sentenced to eight years in prison in January, supposedly for endangering national security, had been in solitary confinement for more than a week.
The ACLJ, which represents his wife and two children back in the U.S., has warned that Abedini is in need of medical attention for a number of health issues, but so far prison officials have refused to provide him with that care.
"This is a critical development and does raise hope after a very discouraging week. It was believed that Pastor Saeed may have faced 20 days or more in solitary confinement. Pastor Saeed described the first time he spent in solitary confinement, some 200 days ago when he was first imprisoned for his Christian faith, as some of the worst days he has ever faced," the ACLJ wrote in an update on the pastor.
The law group noted that it is unclear how many of the other 10 prisoners that were placed in solitary confinement have been returned to the general prison population. The men were punished alongside the pastor apparently for writing a letter complaining about the lack of medical treatment they received while in Evin.
"We are hopeful that Pastor Saeed's early return to the general population of Ward 350 is a sign that international pressure on Iran is beginning to have an effect," the ACLJ added.
The fight to have the U.S. pastor released from prison continues. The U.S. Department of State, the European Union and the United Nations have all called for his release, while over 575,000 people around the world have now signed a petition supporting Abedini.