Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned in Tehran for his faith, has been moved to one of the country’s most brutal prisons, according to his U.S.-based legal team.
Guards at Evin Prison told a family member who went to visit Abedini today that the pastor had been moved to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, about 90 minutes outside the nation’s capital. Guards there told Abedini’s family he was not allowed to have visitors.
Rajai Shahr is known to house the country’s worst criminals—murders and rapists. Lawyers with the American Center for Law and Justice, who represent Abedini’s wife, say he now faces life-threatening conditions. A Dutch diplomat who visited the prison in 2005 described it as a place where political prisoners are sent for the most severe punishment. Because many of the criminals housed there already face the death penalty, violence between inmates is common.
An Iranian court sentenced Abedini to eight years in prison for his involvement in the country’s house church movement. Although Abedini has lived in the United States since 2004 and is a U.S. citizen, he traveled back to Iran occasionally to visit family. He was arrested in September 2012 while working at a non-sectarian orphanage.
The U.S. State Department has called for his release, although critics say the Obama administration has not done enough to secure his freedom. Abedini’s supporters hoped he might soon be freed after Iran’s new reformer president, Hassan Rouhani, released 80 political prisoners ahead of a visit to the United Nations. During his time in New York, Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, gave one of Rouhani’s guards a letter pleading for her husband’s freedom. But during an interview, Rouhani said he could not interfere in the country’s justice system.
While the Iranian government is taking a new, softer approach to its relationship with the United States, in hopes of getting a reprieve from crippling economic sanctions, protestors took to the streets today to mark the anniversary of the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Tens of thousands of protestors participated in the biggest anti-American rally in years, chanting “death to America” and burning American flags.