It's been five days since American Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran because of his Christian faith, disappeared inside an Iranian prison - his whereabouts unknown. On Monday, he and his attorney were able to participate in Day One of his trial before one of Iran's 'hanging judges.'
Since then Pastor Saeed and his attorney have been barred from taking part in further proceedings. Then, on Thursday, concern began to grow after Iranian guards turned away Saeed’s family when they attempted to visit him in Evin Prison. They were told Saeed was not there.
Today in Iran, Pastor Saeed's family went back to the prison and were told by prison officials that Pastor Saeed had been moved to Ward 3, Hall 1 of Evin Prison. The family, however, was not able to see him or speak with him because visitation hours for this ward are on Monday. Pastor Saeed reportedly was moved to this ward to receive better medical treatment, although it is impossible to confirm his health status or if he is receiving treatment.
This latest development comes as Iranian officials continue to provide contradictory information to the family. Today, the family friend who was threatened by Iranian officials because he was assisting them in attempting to place bail, returned to court to retrieve some documents.
A court administrator told the family friend to let Pastor Saeed's lawyer know that he needed to come to court because they would be releasing Pastor Saeed soon. What's questionable about this statement is that the court did not inform Pastor Saeed's attorney about this development. The court was closed before the attorney could determine the validity of this statement. He will return tomorrow to determine Pastor Saeed's status.
With what's been happening in this case, it's difficult to place much credibility in such a statement. The Iranian government repeatedly has lied about the case. A government that has engaged in physical and emotional torture in Pastor Saeed's case means every comment by the Iranian government must be taken as a grain of salt.
Pastor Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, is understandably anxious to confirm her husband's whereabouts and condition. "We have been told so many things about Saeed," said Naghmeh. "I don't believe anything the Iranian government says about my husband. It's a very difficult and emotional time for me and my children. I continue to pray for his release and look forward to the day we are re-united and he is back with us at home."
With a new week ahead comes new pressure from the U.S. government to secure Pastor Saeed's freedom.
After nearly 240,000 petition signatures, dozens of ACLJ media appearances, tireless efforts from his wife, Naghmeh, and letters signed by 49 Senators and Representatives, both the U.S. State Department and the White House have now condemned Iran for its imprisonment of Pastor Saeed, a U.S. citizen. And more importantly, they both have called on Iran to release him.
With international pressure now growing for Pastor Saeed's release, it is time for Iran to act - release Pastor Saeed now.