The recent beating and re-incarceration of a hospitalized American pastor in Iran was motivated by the Iranian nuclear talks, Iranian authorities reportedly told the pastor’s family members.
Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2012, was beaten and forcibly removed from the hospital where he had been a patient since March and returned to Rajai Shahr Prison, his legal counsel said today.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been representing Abedini’s family, said the nuclear talks could have motivated the unexpected and violent transfer.
"The reason for the transfer is unclear and according to family members, one of the guards who was involved in the transfer mentioned the Iranian nuclear talks as a possible motive," said the ACLJ in a statement.
Sources say Abedini collapsed at one point during the beating from guards.
This is not the first report of violence against the 34-year-old Christian pastor. Abedini was reportedly shackled and denied medical treatment when he was initially brought to the hospital in March. However, the ACLJ said Abedini’s health and physical treatment had improved in recent weeks, and his assault and transfer back to prison occurred without any prior notice.
The Christian pastor is currently serving out an eight-year prison sentence for religion-related charges. His wife, Nagmeh Abedini, and two young children remain in the United States and have been unable to see him.
The ACLJ’s executive director Jordan Sekulow said the U.S. State Department has been informed of the potential link between the prison transfer and the nuclear talks.
Sekulow said the incident "underscores that it’s tough to separate these issues [Abedini’s imprisonment and the nuclear negotiations] out."
He said the violent transfer could have been an effort by the Iranian government to gain leverage in the nuclear talks, or a warning from segments of the Iranian government who oppose the negotiations.
"This is another opportunity for our government to go to whoever their counterparts are in Iran and try to get to the bottom of it," Sekulow said.
U.S. officials have discussed the imprisonment of Abedini and other detained Americans with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the nuclear negotiations.
However, the Obama administration has also downplayed any link between the nuclear talks and its efforts to free these incarcerated U.S. citizens.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.