(UPI) -- An American pastor arrested in Iran in 2012 has been moved to a more dangerous prison and his family has been barred from visiting him.
Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor who converted from Islam, was arrested in June 2012 and sentenced on Sept. 26, 2012 "on charges related to his religious belief," said Secretary of State John Kerry, in calling on Iran to release him.
Abedini is an Iranian-born U.S. citizen who has a wife and two children living in Idaho. He was visiting Iran -- with its government's permission -- to build a nonsectarian orphanage on his parents' property.
One of Abedini's Iranian family members went to visit him at Evin Prison, in Tehran, but was told he had been moved to Rajai Shahr Prison near Karaj, the American Center for Law and Justice, the organization representing Abedini's family in the U.S., said. The family member drove to Karaj and was told Abedini was not allowed to receive visitors.
In Iran, converts from Islam can receive the death penalty, but Abedini was charged with "undermining the Iranian government" and inciting "Christian gatherings" and was sentenced to eight years.
Human Rights Watch researcher Faraz Sanei said so-called "prisoners of conscience" at Rajai Shahr Prison are incarcerated with violent offenders and deal with poor conditions that include overcrowding, negligence, and a lack of heat, running water and medical care.
Abedini is one of three American citizens detained in Iran. President Barack Obama, when speaking with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani in an historic phone conversation in September, expressed concern for Abedini, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007, and Amir Hekmati, a former Marine jailed in 2011 on accusations of espionage.