BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho pastor who is being detained in a notorious prison in Iran has been allowed to visit members of his family, a development that human rights groups attribute to international pressure calling for his release.
The American Center for Law & Justice said the visit granted Monday to Christian pastor Saeed Abedini was the first since his transfer to Rajai Shahr prison more than two weeks ago.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of ACLJ, said it's also the first time anyone outside the prison has been able to gauge his health since the transfer.
Abedini's situation remains dire, Sekulow said. The 33-year-old pastor, who is of Iranian origin but had been living with his wife and children in Boise, Idaho, is being held in the lockup's violent criminal ward and is sharing a 10-by-10 cell with five other prisoners.
Sekulow said Abedini has not yet been provided the medication prescribed to soothe pain from internal injuries and abdominal bleeding suffered during beatings in the early days of his incarceration.
"He's never received medical treatment for these injuries," Sekulow said. "The fact there was a face-to-face visit is good news and shows he's alive. But he's still can't get his medication, so he's suffering."
Abedini has been in Iranian custody since September 2012 and is serving an eight-year sentence for undermining state security. During a trial in January, he was convicted of trying to establish a network of Christian churches in private homes.
Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan resolution calling for Abedini's immediate release. A similar resolution is pending in the House. Also last week, key members of the European Parliament wrote a letter pushing for his freedom.
"The government of Iran continues to violate Pastor Abedini's human rights through his imprisonment and abuse," Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said. "Pastor Abedini's only crime is to peacefully exercise his faith and work to help meet the needs of the poor and most vulnerable in Iran. It is past time for Iran to release Pastor Saeed Abedini."
Sekulow said Abedini's visit with family members was a result of the mounting international pressure.
International human rights groups that monitor prisons claim Rajai Shahr is among the worst for brutality and rates of inmate-on-inmate violence.
During his incarceration at Evin Prison, Abedini was allowed weekly visits from relatives still living in Iran and was getting medication.