RELIGION
01/15/2013 11:17 am ET Updated Jan 15, 2013

Rev. Saeed Abedini, Imprisoned American Pastor, Transferred To 'Hanging Judge' In Iran

Christian Reverend Saeed Abedini, a 32-year-old American pastor currently being held in an Iranian prison, has been transferred to a judge known for handing out long prison terms and death sentences to political prisoners, according to the non-profit American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

Abbas Pir-Abassi is known as a "hanging judge" because of his draconian rulings. The judge has given death sentences to protesters, according a report in the Official Journal of the European Union, highlighted by the ACLJ. Pir-Abassi also had travel bans and sanctions placed on him by the European Union in 2011 because of alleged human rights abuses.

Abedini, a U.S. citizen, has been in jail since September, apparently for helping start an underground church movement in Iran.

"There's been an increase in targeting of Christian converts in Iran, especially after 2005 when Ahmedinejad became president, but definitely after [the protests of] 2009," Faraz Sanei, the Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Huffington Post over the phone. "[The Iranian government] has a problem with evangelical Christians because they believe they are trying to convert Muslims and they consider them a threat."

Until recently, the charges against Abedini had not been made public. Even Abedini's lawyer was unable to see his client's court files until one week before the trial, which is set for January 21, according to the ACLJ. The only charge Abedini's lawyer could decipher is from 2000 and is for acting against the national security of Iran, ACLJ reports.

But Abedini most likely will not be hanged, Sanei told The Huffington Post, because -- unlike charges of apostasy, which carry the death penalty -- charges of national security usually don't amount to a death sentence.

"Based on the charges it doesn't seem that Abedini is in danger of death, but Pir-Abassi is known to be a very harsh judge," remarked Sanei.

Abedini was raised in Iran but converted to Christianity when he was 20, according to The Christian Post. He married an American woman in 2002 and was later given American citizenship through his marriage. He and his wife have two children together.

The ACLJ is representing Abedini's family in the U.S. and has a petition on its website urging the U.S. government to take action on Abedini's behalf.

While the U.S. State Department said in December that it was in contact with Abedini and said on Friday it had "serious concerns" about his imprisonment, it has stopped short of calling for his release, a spokesperson for the ACLJ told HuffPost in an email.

Read more about Saeed Abedini's case on The American Center for Law and Justice's website.

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