Western governments are being urged to put pressure on Iran to release an American pastor who is believed to be in solitary confinement in one of the country's toughest jails. Pastor Saeed Abedini from Idaho was sentenced to eight years in January for preaching Christianity in Iranian homes.
According to anti-persecution charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Pastor Abedini had taken part in a peaceful courtyard protest over the mistreatment of his fellow inmates in Evin Prison. The demonstration reportedly angered prison officials who then put Pastor Abedini and nine other prisoners in solitary confinement.
Pastor Abedini had also signed a petition criticising the lack of medical care for prisoners and the mistreatment of their families during visits.
The father-of-two is reportedly suffering severe internal bleeding after regular beatings in prison and there are concerns his kidneys may not be functioning properly.
It's believed he has been refused medical treatment by prison authorities and family members were turned away from their weekly visit and told he was no longer allowed visitors.
CSW's Middle East Officer, who can't be named for security reasons, tells Premier more about the situation:
Pastor Abedini, who was born in Iran, has been held since September 2012, after being charged with 'actions against the national security of Iran'.
He maintains he was in the country on a family visit and was not there to set up house churches.
CSW is convinced the charges against Pastor Abedini are actually linked to his conversion from Islam to Christianity.
The charity also said Christians in Iran are increasingly facing such charges as a means of justifying arrests and extreme sentences. It's also concerned about Pastor Behnam Irani, another believer currently held in prison in Iran. The charity said he is now unable to walk due to back pain and he's being refused medical help.
He also has trouble with his vision and last year suffered severe bleeding due to stomach ulcers and complications with his colon, which caused him to lose consciousness at one point.
Pastor Irani was arrested in December 2006, and sentenced to six years on charges of 'action against the state' and 'action against the order'. CSW said during the first few months in Ghezal Hesar Prison, Pastor Irani was put in a small cell where guards would repeatedly wake him from sleep as a form of psychological torture.
He was then moved into a cramped room where he could not lie down to sleep, before being transferred to a crowded, filthy cell, which he currently shares with 40 criminals, many of whom are violent.
He has been subjected to physical and psychological pressure, and has sustained regular beatings from his cell mates and prison authorities, as well as death threats.
CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said:
"Pastor Abedini's case is reminiscent of that of Pastor Irani, who is also being denied adequate medical care for severe health challenges.
"We urge the Iranian authorities to provide immediate medical care for Pastor Abedini and Pastor Irani, and to release them and all other prisoners who in reality are being held on account of their faith.
"The freedom to profess one's faith is protected in the Iranian constitution as well as in various international treaties to which Iran is signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
"We therefore call on Iran to fulfil its legal obligations and uphold this right for all of its citizens."