‘When I became a Christian, I was beaten and kicked out of the house’

‘When I became a Christian, I was beaten and kicked out of the house’

Parsa’s story is different from a lot of other Iranian Christians who have experienced persecution. 

For most, the primary source of persecution is the state, but in Parsa’s case, although he was also pressured by the security forces, the main point of pressure came from his family. 

Parsa converted to Christianity at the age of 21, and this proved very difficult to accept for his family, who were devout Muslims. 

His mother and brother told him they were glad about the positive changes in his behaviour since his conversion, but sad he no longer prayed with them.

“I explained to them that I had started to believe in Jesus,” Parsa explains, “and my brother said, with a lump in his throat: ‘You’ll be sorry if Dad learns about it!’ A month later, my father found out, beat me up, and kicked me out of the house.”

Parsa was also pressured at work, and told he would be fired unless he returned to Islam. Parsa refused; so that was the end of his job.

Meanwhile, at home, the pressure from his family continued. They separated his dishes and towels from theirs, made him stay in different rooms from his siblings, and even locked him up at night. 

“They thought I had been given medicine, which had changed me and calmed me down so that I could forgive and love,” he says. “My mother used to say: ‘Your behaviour is great. Stay the same, but come and pray with us!’ I would try to explain to her what the real reason was for my change in behaviour, but she couldn’t accept it.”

Parsa explains how his family even invited Islamic scholars and a friend of his to try to change his mind. But this friend only testified that he’d seen positive changes in Parsa since his conversion, and a few months later he too converted. 

Still, Parsa’s family would not give up. They called upon an acquaintance with ties to the regime, and asked him to arrest Parsa, but this man replied: “Please don’t ask me to do such a thing! I don’t want to! Because if someone is arrested for these charges, there is no way out, and they will definitely kill him, and then you and your family will regret it. You’ve been patient until now, so continue enduring it, and maybe he’ll regret it in the future.”

But Parsa did not regret his decision, and continued to meet up with his new Christian friends.

He was baptised in the summer of 2013. But two years later, as Parsa and two of his Christian friends were finalising their plans for a new business venture together, their premises was raided by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence.

The agents drove Parsa back to his house, to conduct a search, and his father cursed him, telling the agents: “This boy has ruined us! We did everything we could, but we couldn’t bring him back to the right path. Why didn’t you come sooner? Take him with you and do whatever your heart desires. Even if you kill him, I won’t complain!”

Parsa was detained and interrogated for three weeks, and says he was “severely tortured psychologically”. 

“They find your weakness and try to put pressure on you, even through phone calls – for example, they knew that my mother was upset about my condition, so they called my home and asked for my mother on purpose. When I talked to her, she was crying, and her tears made me feel bad. I started crying with her and told her not to worry about me. Relatives had gathered at our house during that time, and they were sad about my arrest. They mourned with my family, and cried.”

With his arrest, Parsa says his family’s approach to him softened, and they even reached out to their friend with ties to the regime for help.

“Miraculously,” Parsa says, it turned out that this man knew his interrogator. 

“Before they spoke together, my interrogator had insulted me during every interrogation,” he says, “but after their call, his behaviour towards me changed completely… ‘I want to help you,’ he told me, ‘so you have to fill out these forms’…

“He said: ‘You have to make a commitment not to see any of your Christian friends after your release and not to travel with them.’ I said I would never agree to that. ‘You are well aware that we didn’t commit any crime,’ I said. ‘You asked us not to do any training sessions, and I will obey that, but you can’t take away our natural right to visit each other. If you have problems with our gatherings at home, we will meet in the park and pray together there.’ He replied: ‘You are very rude, and if you continue like this, I will order that they execute you!’ But I refused to make or sign any such commitment.

After three weeks’ detention, Parsa was released on bail, paid for through the submission of his father’s property deed.

“My father put a lot of pressure on me because of this,” Parsa says.

Parsa’s education was also impacted. He needed just six credits to complete a degree, but suddenly Parsa stopped receiving good grades.

“When I was in prison, the interrogator had told me: ‘If you don’t cooperate with us, all your work opportunities and even your university education in Iran will be over,'” Parsa says. “But I hadn’t really thought the MOIS would inform the university about my arrest and security file. I had completed my diploma at another university, and at that time I was studying accounting at the Islamic Azad University of Qods City in Tehran. But due to the interference of the intelligence officials, unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to pass the six credits required to receive my final degree.”

Meanwhile, Parsa says that “everywhere I went, one or two cars followed me, and my phone calls were tapped, which made me paranoid. Even when I went to buy new clothes, I felt like they were watching and listening to my every move… 

“The most stressful moment for me was when someone knocked on the door, and I went to open it. Even if the person standing on the other side was my best friend, the experience made me feel very nervous and disorientated. Unconsciously, I would experience a déjà vu of the scene when I opened the door and agents had entered and arrested me.” 

Ten months after his release from prison, Parsa fled Iran, and sought asylum in Turkey. Three months later, he was sentenced, in absentia, to five years in prison.

Parsa explains that in the more than six years since he fled Iran, he’s attended many counselling sessions, as well as a trauma-awareness course run by Article18, which he says “helped me a lot to get rid of the déjà vus that I suffered from”. 

But though he claimed asylum in 2016, Parsa is still waiting for an interview with the Turkish authorities, which have since taken over refugee cases from the UNHCR.

You can read Parsa’s full Witness Statement here.

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