Christian pastor and American citizen Saeed Abedini suffered a significant setback this week when a heavily armed group of Iranian guards stormed a hospital in Tehran, brutally beat him and transported him to jail.

Abedini, held against his will in Iran since September 2012, had spent two months in a private hospital recovering from injuries suffered from beatings while in captivity. His parents were at the hospital when the guards forcibly removed him.

He’s currently in an Iranian prison serving an 8-year prison sentence. Abedini’s attorney, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, said Abedini is being persecuted for his religious beliefs.

“Pastor Saeed has committed no crime,” Sekulow wrote on “He is being punished because of his Christian faith. This latest turn of events is extremely disappointing and reveals the true brutality against Christians that is still very real and present in Iran.”

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Abedini’s wife, speaking this week on Fox News Channel, said the latest turn of events was a major blow to the family. The Abedinis have two children in the United States.

“We were hoping that him being in the hospital was a step closer to his release,” Naghmeh Abedini told Fox News. Instead, she said 50 guards descended on the hospital and brutally beat her husband until he collapsed.

So far, there’s no explanation why the Iranians transferred Abedini to Rajai Shahr Prison.

“This came as a complete shock to our family,” Naghmeh Abedini said. “In some ways, hearing the news about his beating and return to prison was worse than getting the initial call nearly two years ago that Saeed was taken into custody. This is a very difficult time for us—not knowing what to expect. We continue to receive strength from the many people around the world who are praying for Saeed and our family.”

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Sekulow noted that more than 250,000 people from across the globe have called for Iran to release Abedini. President Obama has raised the matter with Iran’s president and mentioned Abedini at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year.

That’s not enough, Sekulow said:

It’s hard to believe that an American citizen is still in jail for two years now when we’re sitting down with the Iranians on a regular basis discussing the nuclear program and we just can’t get this American freed.

The U.S. State Department released this statement:

We remain concerned about Mr. Abedini’s health and welfare, especially given reports of mistreatment during his transfer back to Rajai Shahr prison. We repeat our request for Iran to permit Mr. Abedini to receive any necessary medical treatment,and to grant Swiss officials, who serve as our protecting power, consular access to determine his well-being. We remain in touch with Mr. Abedini’s family regarding developments in his case. We call on Iran to release Mr. Abedini so that he may be reunited with his family.

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