Christian convert Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi on his arrest, 10-year sentence and why he left Iran

Christian convert Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi on his arrest, 10-year sentence and why he left Iran

Iranian Christian convert Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi has spoken exclusively with Article18 about his arrest at a Christmas gathering in 2014, at the home of Iranian-Assyrian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, his subsequent 10-year prison sentence, and the eventual rejection of his appeal earlier this year.

In the 17-minute video interview, Kavian, who is now living as an asylum seeker in Turkey, begins by explaining why he and other converts meet together in private homes, rather than churches:

“Unfortunately, a few years ago, [nearly] all Persian-language churches in Iran were closed,” he explains. “The only place where Christians – I’m talking about Persian-speaking churches – can gather is in homes. So inevitably we do gather together like this, but of course it wouldn’t be our first choice and it isn’t safe.” 

Kavian then describes how he was arrested, even though they had no warrant for his arrest and “didn’t seem to know what to do with me”, and how the agents treated him “respectfully” during his arrest, but changed their behaviour “180 degrees” after he was detained.

“I was kept for 23 days in solitary confinement, in an environment where you have no access to anything,” he says. “Even my glasses were taken away from me! There was neither a pen, nor anything else; there was nothing you could do. It was very difficult, and the interrogations were very sporadic. You weren’t sure if you were going to be interrogated one day, or a week later, nor how long you would have to stay in that place: a day, a week, a month, a year … a lifetime? They put me in a state of total uncertainty, which was incredibly stressful.” 

Kavian says he was blindfolded any time he left his cell and that during his interrogations a set of blank sheets of paper were placed in front of him and he was told to fill 16 pages.

“It is against the law to make someone write about themselves without any specific question,” he explains, “and it really placed me under a lot of pressure.”

‘You’ll be here so long, your hair will turn white like your teeth!’ 

Kavian says the agents told him that if he “cooperated”, they would reduce his punishment.

“These were exactly the words of my interrogator: ‘If you cooperate really well, we will turn your lifetime imprisonment into five years, the five-year imprisonment into some months, or even release you right now. It depends on how much you cooperate with us!’” Kavian says.

After he refused, they reportedly said: “You’re going to be here for so long, your hair will turn white like your teeth!” 

Kavian was eventually sentenced, in July 2017, to 10 years in prison for “acting against national security by organising and conducting an illegal house-church”.

This 10-year sentence was the most severe punishment the law provides for conducting a so-called “illegal” assembly, Kavian explains.

“And actually I hadn’t ever even been summoned before,” he says. “I received no warning; I hadn’t even been once to the Ministry of Intelligence, nor had there ever been any court case against me, but they severely punished me, without any evidence.

“They accused me of ‘organising and conducting an illegal assembly’ – namely, a house-church – and preaching ‘evangelical Christianity’. But actually I personally didn’t lead a church – which wouldn’t be illegal anyway, but nevertheless I didn’t! They didn’t even take any evidence from me; they didn’t even find my Bible! The only ‘evidence’ they had was the interrogations they had done with me.”

Kavian then explains how he fled Iran about four years ago, after becoming less and less “optimistic” about his case. 

But it wasn’t until this summer, nearly six years after his arrest and more than three years after his sentencing, that Kavian finally heard his appeal, and those of the other four Christians sentenced alongside him, had been rejected.

Since leaving Iran, Kavian says he has lived in “complete uncertainty”.

“I registered as an asylum seeker at the United Nations,” he says, “but after four years not only was I not interviewed, but I am still in an unstable situation in Turkey, and still the situation really isn’t clear. So I have no clear vision for the future.”

Kavian says he was particularly disappointed when his application for a humanitarian visa to live in Australia was rejected.

“That was a big shock for me,” he says. “I really didn’t expect that such a heavy sentence would be handed down to me, and then that a country that accepts asylum seekers would reject my case, and that this very severe psychological pressure would be placed on me.”