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BOISE -- A decision by Iranian officials to transfer an American pastor to a notoriously violent prison has heightened concern among relatives and energized lawmakers pushing for his immediate release.

33-year-old Saeed Abedini was convicted and sentenced earlier this year to eight years in prison for creating a network of Christian churches in private homes in Iran. Until recently, he was being held in a prison with other political detainees.

But family members and human rights officials say Abedini was moved Sunday to an extremely brutal prison outside Tehran.

Abedini's wife Naghmeh Abedini says she fears even more for her husband's life and is urging American and international leaders to act.

On Thursday, 23 U.S. senators sent a bipartisan letter asking President Obama to engage in direct talks with Iran.

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