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WASHINGTON (BP) -- Saeed Abedini, the Iranian-American pastor who has been imprisoned in Tehran for his Christian faith, has been examined for internal bleeding and was granted an extended visit with his family for the first time, according to the American Center for Law and Justice.

"Our sources in Iran have confirmed that Pastor Saeed's family in Iran was able to visit with him today in Evin Prison for an extended two-hour visitation," Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ's executive director, wrote March 18.

"It's the first time Iranian authorities have granted his family an extended visit since his imprisonment last fall. This extended visitation was granted as part of Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebrations," Sekulow said.

Abedini reportedly told his Iranian family that he had been examined for internal bleeding sustained from the repeated beatings he has endured in the infamously brutal Iranian prison.

ACLJ's report also said Abedini told his relatives that prison officials assured him he would be taken to a private hospital outside the prison to receive medical attention.

"There's no word on when this would occur," Sekulow wrote. "But with his medical condition worsening each day, such medical attention is needed immediately and would be a welcomed sign."

Medical treatment for the persecuted pastor, Sekulow said, would be "the first modest step toward acknowledging the grave human rights abuses Iran has perpetrated against this U.S. citizen." He added, though, that Iranian officials have failed to keep promises in the past.

In one more bit of positive news, ACLJ said the Iranian Mission to the United Nations has asked Iran's top appeals court officials to consider Abedini's case.

"International pressure is working," Sekulow wrote. "Now is the time to step up the pressure. We know Iran is listening."

More than 540,000 people have signed a petition at SaveSaeed.org calling for Abedini's release.

Last week Abedini's wife Naghmeh, who lives in Idaho with their two young children, told members of Congress she is disheartened the Obama administration is not helping her husband.

Testifying March 15 on Capitol Hill, Naghmeh Abedini said, "I must say I am disappointed with our government. I am disappointed that our president and our State Department have not fully engaged in this case. ... I expect more from our government.

"e should know as American citizens that our government will stand up to protect our beliefs, our fundamental human rights," she said.

After no representative from the State Department attended the hearing, Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, left the hearing record open to allow the State Department a week to file written testimony.

Wolf and five other congressmen subsequently sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, asking him to make Abedini's case a priority and to swiftly issue a public statement calling for the pastor's immediate and unconditional release.

"There was a palpable sense of disappointment in the room that our government didn't deem the hearing important enough to provide a witness," the congressmen wrote to Kerry. Such a void, they said, "sent a dangerous message to rogue regimes the world over -- even human rights abuses that compromise the safety and security of American citizens will be met with virtual silence from the U.S. government."

Abedini has reported that Iranian authorities at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran are torturing him and pressuring him to deny Christ. Iranian officials arrested and imprisoned him last year, and a court sentenced him in January to eight years in prison for endangering Iran's "national security" by planting house churches a decade ago in the Mideast country. Abedini, 32, is an ordained minister of Iranian descent who became a United States citizen in 2010.

Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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