US pastor in Iran moved to ‘more dangerous’ prison

Pastor Saeed Abedini (ACLJ photo).
Pastor Saeed Abedini (ACLJ photo).

Originally published in WND

The American pastor held in Iran since September 2012 has been moved from the notorious Evin Prison to the “even more dangerous” Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj, an hour and a half from Tehran.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been working to free Pastor Saeed Abedini, said the move was discovered while Abedini’s family members attempted a visit but were told he had been transported to the “life threatening” prison in Karaj. 

In an interview with WND, ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said the severity of Abedini’s situation has increased.

“It’s more notorious in its scale. It’s a place where people disappear. It’s a place where people murder each other. There are a lot of convicted murderers; there are convicted rapists there,” Sekulow said.

Sekulow says the signs aren’t good for Abedini.

“As for the political prisoners who get sent there, it’s prisoners who are in their last days. That’s why there’s such an urgency behind our statements on this,” Sekulow said.

Sekulow says the Iranian government frequently uses Rajai Shahr to dispose of prisoners that present political liabilities to the regime.

“It’s a way for the government, as the Iranian government has done in the past, to eliminate people who are causing trouble without actually having to execute them. They just lock them in Rajai Shahr prison and blame the other inmates,” Sekulow said. “That way they don’t have to actually execute them.”

He said even in Evin, Abedini was in trouble.

“Evin Prison is such a high profile prison, yet the interrogations are horrendous. You can actually end up dead. They do executions there and it’s outside of Tehran. They don’t allow much visitation,” Sekulow said.

Foreign policy analysts say that the move was made without prior notice and may coincide with a new round of negotiations between the US and Iran.

Possible motive
The move happened over the weekend, at the beginning of Iran’s reassertion of official recognition of “Death to America Day.”

Sekulow says he believes the move may be the result of an internal power struggle and that the Revolutionary Guard may have made the decision.

“It’s no coincidence that this move was made near ‘Death to America’ day in Iran,” he said. “There has been a very public struggle in Iran between President Rouhani and the Revolutionary Guard – between the hardliners and those who are at least willing to sit down at the table with the United States.

“We saw again today, ‘Death to America’ banners were back out; the chants of ‘Death to America’ are being heard again in a way that hasn’t been seen in a long time,” Sekulow said.

“That sentiment has been there for a long time, but obviously this major demonstration was backed by someone in the government. We don’t believe this is President Rouhani trying to threaten the United States.

“But it could very well be those elements inside Iran like the Revolutionary Guard who are trying to undermine President Rouhani,” Sekulow said.

“With more negotiations upcoming on the nuclear issue as early as this Thursday, if an American were to be killed, that would undermine what President Rouhani is trying to do,” Sekulow said. “What you see now is that, because he’s an American citizen, Pastor Saeed is caught up in this current debate that’s happening in Iran as we speak.”

News agencies and human rights groups have followed Abedini’s case, and the Brazilian government’s pursuit of his release makes the case “high profile.” Sekulow says that moving the American pastor is definitely risky.

“There is an element in the Iranian regime that doesn’t want negotiations, specifically the Revolutionary Guard. The Guard could be undermining the negotiating effort,” Sekulow said.

“So that’s why we don’t pass judgment on President Rouhani too quickly. If he does have any power from the ayatollah to help, and because President Obama talked about Saeed to Rouhani, Rouhani is on notice,” Sekulow said. “If there is just one person in the regime who has control, and I think the ayatollah’s power is being challenged as he ages, he’s kind of in the midst of this power struggle.

“There are people in this regime who would really like to scuttle any kind of talks or negotiations with America,” Sekulow said. “I think this is the assumption we have to make, that this move was made by those who oppose any sort of negotiation or accommodation with the United States.”

Contact with State Department
The ACLJ contacted the State Department as soon as word came that Abedini had been moved. Sekulow says that the State Department is very familiar with the Rajai Shahr prison.

“We called them very early, and I will say this, when we mentioned the name of the prison, they knew the name. It was disheartening and they immediately knew this wasn’t a positive step,” Sekulow said.

“The State Department is taking this very seriously,” Sekulow said. “They were the ones who deal with Iran and this situation and they know this is a very serious and a very dire situation.”

Sekulow added that the State Department was waiting to see what happened after President Obama talked with the Iranian president about Abedini.

“We’ve been working with the State Department since President Obama’s phone call and they said they wanted to see what the Iranian officials would do once they returned to Iran,” Sekulow said.

“There has been something of a backlash in Iran to Rouhani’s talks and to President Obama’s phone call,” Sekulow said.

Sekulow says the effort to get Abedini released will continue.

“We are working with the State Department and members of Congress, the White House and the president, to once again go about doing what they can to get Saeed released,” Sekulow said.

“They can’t just snap their fingers and get Saeed released, but if he can make a public statement, since some channels have been closed…You know, with negotiations coming up later this week, there has to be some way to communicate this message,” Sekulow said.

“It does appear that the State Department understands the seriousness of the situation,” Sekulow said. “We’re always really cautious and if you look back over the past couple of weeks, they’ve been really quiet about this issue. We were letting things settle. To raise the alarm bells and turn on the alarm is something we would only do if we have to,” Sekulow said.

Sekulow says the ACLJ is rightly concerned, especially after the apparent breakthrough in September.

WND reported then that Abedini’s wife, Nagmeh, was grateful that Obama spoke with the Iranian president about her husband.

She told WND in an interview that even though Obama talked about Saeed, she wasn’t going to stop advocating for her husband’s release.

“I plan to keep up the pressure. I plan to take this to the pope, who’s approached governments, and I plan to continue the pressure and prayer. I believe that will bring about Saeed home before our daughter’s eighth birthday,” Nagmeh Abedini said at the time. “She’s already had two birthdays without him, and I hope she won’t have to have another one without him.”

WND reported last month that members of the European Parliament also have been calling on Iran’s rogue Islamic regime to release Abedini.

The American pastor’s supporters say he is jailed because of his Christianity.

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