- (Photo: ACLJ)
Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen facing a possible death sentence for his Christian faith in Iran and whose whereabouts were unknown since Thursday, had been moved to a different ward in Tehran's Evin Prison, the pastor's family has been told. However, the prison officials' claim is yet to be confirmed.
Prison officials told Saeed's family on Saturday that he had been moved to Ward 3, Hall 1 of Evin Prison in Tehran, according to information received by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing Saeed's family in the United States.
However, the pastor's family could not see or speak with him because visitors are allowed into Ward 3 only on Monday. He was allegedly moved to this ward to receive better medical treatment.
After two days of Saeed's trial, which began last Monday, Judge Pir-Abassi, notoriously known as the "hanging judge," had apparently told the pastor's lawyer, Dr. Naser Sarbazi, that he would see to the pastor being moved from his current ward to another ward, where he would receive better medical treatment.
However, it is not known what Saeed's health status is or if he is actually receiving treatment. It is difficult to believe Iranian officials, as they have often provided contradictory information to Saeed's family.
On Saturday, when a family friend, who was earlier threatened by officials because he was assisting in obtaining bail for the pastor, went to court to retrieve some documents, a court administrator asked him to tell Saeed's lawyer that he needed to come to court because Saeed would be released soon.
"The Iranian government repeatedly has lied about the case," says Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ's Executive Director. "A government that has engaged in physical and emotional torture in Pastor Saeed's case means every comment by the Iranian government must be taken as a grain of salt."
Saeed had told his wife in a letter last month that prison authorities were giving him mixed responses. "This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus," Saeed wrote. "One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy."
"We have been told so many things about Saeed," the pastor's wife, Naghmeh, was quoted as saying. "I don't believe anything the Iranian government says about my husband. It's a very difficult and emotional time for me and my children. I continue to pray for his release and look forward to the day we are re-united and he is back with us at home."
On Friday, the U.S. State Department and the White House condemned the imprisonment of Saeed, calling on Iran to release him.
Pastor Saeed appeared in the courtroom on the first day of his trial on Monday. Prosecutors alleged he has a politically subversive influence on young people and therefore poses a threat to the national security. The pastor and his attorney were barred from the court during a hearing on Tuesday, when lay church leaders were reportedly forced to testify against Saeed.
A verdict for the trial can be expected next week. If convicted of converting Muslim youth, the pastor can receive a lengthy jail sentence or even the death penalty.
Saeed – who grew up in Iran before converting to Christianity at the age of 20 – traveled with his family back and forth between Iran and the U.S. several times in the past few years to meet his family and for Christian work. During one such trip in 2009, he was detained by Iranian officials and interrogated for his conversion. While he was released with a warning against engaging in any more underground church activities, he was once again arrested last July while working on a non-sectarian orphanage project.