By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- An evangelical pastor in one of Iran's most notorious prisons announced on Christmas Eve he was "free in Christ" behind bars after forgiving guards and other inmates who mistreated him.
Farshid Fathi, said though he faced a fourth Christmas in jail separated from his family, he had been "comforted by Immanuel", the Hebrew word for 'God is with us'.
The pastor, who is serving a six-year prison term on charges linked to Christian activities, was recently transferred from Evin Prison to the feared Rajai Shahr Prison, some 20 kilometers (16 miles) west of Tehran, the capital.
"The beauty of Christmas or the signs of Christmas can not be found in [this] prison, but with the ears of faith I can hear the everlasting and beautiful truth that: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel," he wrote in a Christmas letter.
The 35-year-old pastor, whose wife and two children were offered asylum in Canada last year, said God was watching over him and his family.
"I am experiencing that He is with us, with me and my children, with me and with my faithful friends who are having part in my sorrows and [are] not ashamed of my sorrows," he wrote in the letter distributed by fellow believers.
"May in the year of 2015, which I have named the year of victory, God carry you ahead victoriously [as] He spreads the aroma of His knowledge, because we are called to be free," the pastor added, ending his message with "Merry Christmas."
He did not indicate whether he had faced mistreatment after being transferred to Rajai Shahr, but Christians called it "a particularly brutal prison".
Fathi already faced mistreatment in Tehran's Evin Peison, but said in a letter published by BosNewsLife in April that he refused to get angry at the prison guards and roughly 30 inmates who attacked him.
"Of course, we forgive them for all they have done to us because we are the followers of the One who says ‘Father, please forgive them because they don't know what they are doing’," he wrote fellow believers in an Easter message at the time.
Fathi has spent mostly behind bars since December 2010 when he was detained as part of a reported crackdown on Christians before New Year celebrations.
He has been jailed on charges including “actions against national security.”
Iranian Christians say he was persecuted for his open expression of Christian faith, such as leading a congregation. Authorities also charged the pastor with possessing "religious propaganda" after he had Bibles printed in the Farsi language and "unlawfully" distributed them, as well as possessing Christian literature, trial observers told BosNewsLife.
The Elam mission group, founded by senior Iranian church leaders, said it had urged supporters to "please keep him, his family and friends in your prayers this Christmas, as well as the many others who are suffering for their faith in Iran."
Iranian authorities have expressed concern about the spread of Christianity in the strict Islamic nation.