U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini was reportedly pinned down and shackled on Wednesday at an Iranian hospital, where he was also denied much needed surgery.
"This morning Iranian guards lashed out violently against Pastor Saeed and an elderly relative who had been able to visit him in the hospital. Pastor Saeed was pinned down and shackled. His elderly relative was roughly handled and expelled from the hospital," the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Abedini's wife and two children in the U.S, stated.
According to the law group, Abedini was moved over a week ago from Rajai Shahr Prison to a private hospital in Iran where he underwent various tests for a deteriorating medical condition and received nourishment. And although he was promised that he would undergo surgery to address chronic pain in his stomach area - the result of numerous prison beatings - Abedini was sent back to the prison without being treated and doctors giving him nothing more than pain medication.
The American pastor's wife, Naghmeh, has been campaigning for his release from Iranian prison since his arrest in July 2012 while working on an orphanage project. Accused of endangering national security, Abedini was later sentenced to eight years in prison. The ACLJ, which has launched numerous petitions on his behalf, says the conviction has more to do with the pastor's Christian faith.
The ACLJ said it believes the timing of the latest incident is suspect, pointing out that the pastor was granted a visit to the hospital when the High Representative of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, arrived in Iran. As soon as Ashton departed the Islamic country, however, Abedini was sent back to prison without receiving the treatment he needed.
"The EU has been faithfully raising Pastor Saeed's case for some time, and this move would allow Iranian officials to report that he was receiving medical treatment if his case was brought up during the EU's visit to Iran," the ACLJ noted.
"This disturbing turn of events reiterates the need to keep pressure on Iran. As soon as pressure is let up, the situation gets worse. Iran must not be allowed to continue to abuse and mistreat Pastor Saeed out of the public spotlight. The Iranian government is wrongfully imprisoning him and denying him needed medical care because he is a Christian. Each day apart from his family and away from the care of physicians is another human rights abuse."
In January, Abedini was given a "glimmer of hope" for clemency after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seemed to suggest a possible reduced jail sentence. ACLJ noted that the Iranian New Year is March 21, "a time when clemency is often granted to prisoners of conscience."
Following outcry from human rights groups and Abedini's wife that the U.S. government had abandoned the pastor, President Barack Obama called on the Iranian government to release Abedini during his National Prayer Breakfast speech last month.
Over 192,000 people have signed a petition calling on Iran to free Abedini.