U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini has been transferred from the murderer ward to the political prisoner ward in Rajai Shahr Prison in Iran, but his health problems are continuing to worsen and he needs surgery.
"Make no mistake. Pastor Saeed is still in the deadliest prison in Iran facing deteriorating medical conditions. This is the first positive step, however slight, since his transfer from Evin Prison last November," the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Abedini's wife, Naghmeh and their two children in the U.S., revealed on Wednesday.
This was also the first time Abedini's Iranian family has been allowed to visit him in six weeks. And although he will now receive slightly better treatment, including better meals, his family has said that his numerous medical problems continue to worsen, and he is still throwing up and suffering from pain in his abdomen.
"Since being moved within the prison, Pastor Saeed was able to see a prison doctor who was very concerned about his internal injuries. The prison doctor recommended that he receive surgery and provided him medication to ease his pain," ACLJ described. There is still no word from the Iranian officials on whether he will be allowed such a surgery.
The U.S. citizen has been held captive in Iran since July 2012, when he was arrested while working on an orphanage project. He has been accused by Iranian officials of endangering national security and was later sentenced to eight years in prison, though the ACLJ and Naghmeh Abedini have argued that the punishment has more to do with his Christian faith.
"There is a glimmer of comfort to know that my husband has been transferred out of the murderers' ward, but my heart aches to know the pain he continually suffers and that his injuries necessitate surgery. As a family, it is difficult to be so far away and unable to comfort him in his pain," Naghmeh Abedini said in a statement about the latest development.
"Though we are encouraged by the transfer to the new ward, such a small step is far from an unconditional release where Saeed is reunited with our family. While this development is welcomed, we desperately await his return home."
The wife of the U.S. pastor has been actively campaigning for his release. She also planned to risk arrest at a prayer event by the White House to raise awareness for her husband's case but the ACLJ revealed on Tuesday that she is reconsidering her participation.
The ACLJ continues to advocate on the pastor's behalf and is urging people around the world to sign a petition that will encourage the U.S. government to impose harsh sanctions on Iran until it releases Abedini. The law group says that such sanctions might be the best available bargaining point for the pastor's freedom. Over 66,000 people have signed the petition to date, while another 202,321 others have written letters to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.