As more nations call for his release, an Iranian-American pastor imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith remains hospitalized for injuries he suffered from beatings.
Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, converted from Islam to Christianity in 2000 and was ordained a minister in the United States in 2008. He was arrested in 2012 after returning to Iran to work on an orphanage project, and was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of "undermining national security" by attempting to spread his faith.
Since then, his supporters say he has been subjected to beatings that have left him in intense pain and in need of surgery.
Earlier this month, attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice said that although Abedini had been taken to a hospital, they learned from family members that he had been shackled by Iranian guards, prompting an international outcry.
Abedini has since been unshackled but has never received the surgery he needs to treat internal injuries, Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ's executive director, told Newsmax.
While Sekulow says the hospital "is the best place possible" for Abedini so he can receive medical care, he said fears remain that at any time the pastor could be sent back to prison, where medical attention and food have been lacking.
Sekulow, however, praised the heightened efforts of others around the world who are urging Iran to release Abedini.
President Barack Obama spoke out at a recent prayer breakfast about Abedini's plight, and most recently German representatives joined the United States at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, where they mentioned the pastor by name and called on Iran to let him go.
"We take this opportunity to call once again for the release of dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Saeed Abedini, who is currently being held in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs," Paula Schriefer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, told the council, which was discussing its global human-rights reports.
"While Iran has begun to shift its rhetoric on human rights, the United States remains deeply concerned that Iran continues to suppress free expression and civil society, harass members of its ethnic and religious minority populations, and imprison human-rights defenders and journalists for political purposes," she said.
Sekulow said keeping Abedini's story alive around the world is crucial to securing his release.
Abedini has most recently been held in the Rajai Shahr prison. As of January, according to the United Nations, Abedini was among about 50 Christians and a total of 307 religious minorities known to be held in Iranian jails.
"When the president made it a priority, others are now speaking out more directly," Sekulow said. "We very much appreciate a country like Germany speaking out, and the European Union has called for his release. To actually see someone mention someone by name — much of those statements [to the U.N.] are very generic, so that was good."
Abedini has been allowed some visits with family members in Iran who check on his well-being. They have said he remains in great abdominal pain after being beaten and tortured. Supporters hope his release can be secured soon so he may receive adequate treatment.
They also say his incarceration has been difficult on his family, particularly as his two young children, a boy and a girl, grow older and have no father in their home.
"They are realizing more and more what's wrong," Sekulow said. "It's very tough."
Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, who lives in Idaho, has traveled the world to speak to anyone who might help with her husband's release. "She remains strong. She has taken this on as a full-time role," Sekulow said.
Last September, the Rev. Billy Graham got involved, posting a letter to Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, upon his visit to the United Nations, asking that Abedini be let go as a matter of improving diplomacy between the two nations.
By keeping his case high-profile, Sekulow stressed, Abedini's chances for better care should improve, keeping him stronger until he can finally be allowed to come home. More than 220,000 people have signed a petition seeking his release.
"We hope people will continue to pray and to keep his story alive," Sekulow said.