Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was taken back to prison on Christmas Day allegedly because of improperly completed paperwork, multiple sources have said, denying him the chance to celebrate the birth of Christ at home with his family.
Persecution watchdog groups Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Present Truth Ministries both reported the news, saying that pastor Nadarkhani has had to go back to Lakan Prison in Rasht to serve the remainder of his time in prison, another 40 days, and to complete paperwork that authorities say he had not filled out.
"We are disappointed to hear Pastor Nadarkhani has been returned to prison in such an irregular manner," said Mervyn Thomas, CSW's Chief Executive.
"The timing is insensitive and especially sad for his wife and sons, who must have been looking forward to celebrating Christmas with him for the first time in three years. We hope that Pastor Nadarkhani will be released without delay once this alleged sentence has been fully served. We are also asking for prayers for the pastor's safety, and for his family at this difficult time."
In November, Pastor Nadarkhani thanked all those who prayed and advocated for his release during CSW's National Conference in London, where he was a special guest.
"Indeed I have been put to the test, the test of faith which is, according to the Scripture, 'more precious than perishable gold,'" Nadarkhani wrote from a thank-you letter.
"But I have never felt loneliness, I was all the time aware of the fact that it wasn't a solitary battle, for I have felt all the energy and support of those who obeyed their conscience and fought for the promotion of the justice and the rights of all human beings."
The Iranian pastor was first arrested on Oct. 19, 2009, for protesting against Iran's decision to force all children, including his two sons, to read the Quran in schools. Nadharkhani was later charged with apostasy and evangelism to Muslims and spent three years, or a total of 1,062 days, behind bars before he was finally released in September after Christians around the world bound together to pray and petition for his freedom.
An Iranian court acquitted Pastor Nadarkhani of apostasy, which could have led to the death penalty, and granted him release from prison after it deemed he had already served three years for evangelizing to Muslims.
The Lakan Prison director, however, is now saying that the Christian pastor had been released several days too early because of the insistence of his lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, which led to the pastor's Christmas Day arrest.
When he was first released in September, Evangelical leaders from around the world praised advocacy efforts that had helped support Nadarkhani in his time of trial and put pressure on the Iranian government to release him.
"We are relieved for Pastor Nadarkhani, and pleased with this good decision of the Iranian government," National Association of Evangelicals Anderson President Leith Anderson said at the time. "We watch as laws are increasingly being used by governments against religious minorities, and we pray and press for more outcomes like this."
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) added that Nadarkhani's release was a great victory for Christians and human right advocates.
"It does go to show that when you have a global effort ... it can make an impact. It's clearly, clearly significant," commented Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ. His group reached over 3 million users in over 234 countries through their "Tweet for Youcef" campaign, established in support of the pastor.