Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor who was sentenced to death in Iran for the crime of apostasy and spent more than three years in prison, has been allegedly detained on Christmas Day in his home city of Rasht.
The former prisoner of conscience whose case garnered international attention throughout 2012 was released from Lakan Prison on September 8, 2012, after spending over three years in jail.
Today, Iranian media sources indicate that the pastor has been summoned to Rasht to complete the 45 remaining days of his 3-year prison sentence. Nadarkhani had originally been told that the remainder of his sentence would be served on probation.
Youcef Nadarkhani, 35, is married and has two young children. His September release was marked with a celebration by friends and family, as the pastor was acquitted of charges of apostasy that once led to his death sentence. A Twitter campaign initiated by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) reached 3 million followers just before Nadarkhani's release, and Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director for ACLJ said that Pastor Youcef's story "is an example of how the world can join together to ensure that justice is served and freedom preserved."
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) spoke out on Nadarkhani's detainment on Dec. 25, stating, "We are disappointed to hear Pastor Nadarkhani has been returned to prison in such an irregular manner. 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."
Pastor Nadarkhani has been sent to jail on orders of the director of Lakan Prison, according to CSW's sources. The prison director says that Nadarkhani was originally released several days too early due to the persistence of his lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah.
"We hope that Pastor Nadarkhani will be released without delay once this alleged sentence has been fully served," Thomas says. "We are also asking for prayers for the pastor's safety, and for his family at this difficult time."
In a letter released in May of 2012, Nadarkhani thanked supporters for raising awareness of his case.
"From time to time I am informed about the news which is spreading in the media about my current situation," he wrote, "for instance being supported by various churches and famous politicians who have asked for my release, or campaigns and human rights activities which are going on against the charges which are applied to me."
He said that he believed "that these kind[s] of activities can be very helpful in order to reach freedom, and respecting the human rights in a right way can bring forth great results in this," adding, "I want to appreciate all those are trying to reach to this goal."
Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries has remained closely connected to Nadarkhani's case since the beginning. In the wake of the pastor's release, DeMars asked supporters to remember that Nadarkhani might not be out of danger yet - citing cases of other Iranian pastors who were killed after being released.
"Please don't forget what happened to Pastor Mehdi Dibaj [an Iranian pastor who was murdered in 1994] who had his apostasy charges reversed and then was murdered shortly after his release," he said. "Pray for him, his family and everyone involved in his case."