Pastor Saeed Abedini is in great danger after he was abruptly transferred from Evin Prison in Tehran to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj where he will be held in a ward with violent criminals, the American Center for Law and Justice revealed, urging President Barack Obama to take immediate diplomatic action to save his life.
"This new and extremely dangerous development requires the full attention and focus of President Obama. He must speak out now – directly and forcefully – to save Pastor Saeed's life. Pastor Saeed's life is in grave danger," the ACLJ, which represents his wife and two children in the U.S., said in a statement on Monday.
Abedini, a U.S. citizen who was arrested over a year ago and sentenced to eight years in prison because of his Christian faith, had been serving his time in Evin Prison, with other political prisoners. An international campaign calling for his release has also been backed by Obama, who previously spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the issue.
The legal group confirmed on Monday, however, that members of Abedini's family in Iran have revealed that he has been moved to Rajai Shahr Prison, a decision for which so far there is no explanation.
"The unexplained and abrupt transfer comes as turmoil intensifies inside Iran where anti-American sentiment was on full display today as hardline opponents of Iran's President Rouhani's historic outreach to the United States took to the streets to mark the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979," the ACLJ wrote.
"In today's protests, crowds chanted 'death to America' – direct opposition to President Rouhani's promise of moderation."
The very harsh conditions inside Rajai Shahr were exposed in 2005 by Dutch diplomat Loes Bijen from the embassy in Tehran, who wrote:
"Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human rights activists and the press. In Rajaï Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don't hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence."
Iran had appeared to be moving toward releasing a number of political prisoners in the past couple of months, which initially raised hopes that the U.S. pastor could also be released, though ACLJ International Legal Director Tiffany N. Barrans shared with The Christian Post last week that so far there has been no direct response from Rouhani.
"What we do know is that after the president of the United States raised the matter and the European Parliament, a political body representing 28 countries, calls publicly for Pastor Saeed's release, that Iran can no longer claim ignorance. The ball is in Iran's court and it is time that Iran responds to the multitude of voices calling for Pastor Saeed's immediate release," Barrans told CP earlier.
The ACLJ said that it is up to Obama to take immediate action and do all he can to save Abedini's life. A new petition was started to that effect, having been signed by over 11,000 people as of Monday afternoon.