Amin Afshar-Naderi on his 15-year prison sentence and why he left Iran

Amin Afshar-Naderi on his 15-year prison sentence and why he left Iran

Iranian Christian convert Amin Afshar-Naderi has spoken exclusively to Article18 about the “extreme difficulty” he has experienced in “six years of uncertainty” since his arrest at a Christmas gathering in December 2014.

Amin was arrested alongside his pastor, Iranian-Assyrian Victor Bet-Tamraz, and fellow Christian convert Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi as they celebrated Christmas at Victor’s home in Tehran on 26 December 2014.

Amin describes how he was then detained in Evin Prison for 40 days – 33 of them in solitary confinement – while his interrogators did everything in their power to put pressure on him to denounce his friends and renounce his Christian faith.

“They told me, ‘Your mother had a stroke and your father had a stroke and he is in the hospital because of the stent in his heart.’” Amin recalls. “I wasn’t allowed to call home at all, and I was in solitary confinement for three weeks, thinking each day that it might be my father’s last. Until, after three weeks, I was finally allowed to call home and suddenly realised that they had lied to me about everything just to put me under pressure for all those three weeks, thinking I was the reason my father’s illness had become so acute and that he had a stroke because of what I had done. It was very upsetting.”

Amin was eventually released on bail, having been charged with “acting against national security through establishing house-churches”.

But he was re-arrested in August 2016 at his home in Firoozkooh, where he explains he had moved after his arrest “to prevent myself from having too much contact with other believers”.

“I asked to see their warrant,” Amin says of the arrest, “but instead one of the agents opened his coat and showed me his gun and said: ‘Here’s our warrant!’

“I replied: ‘Let me tie up my dogs, so they won’t do anything to you.’ And he said: ‘Don’t worry, if they come at me I’ll shoot them; it’s that simple.’”

Amin says he was wearing his glasses when they “slapped me across my face a few times and emptied their whole can of pepper spray all over my face, making tears come streaming down my face”.

He says his parents feared he had become blind after a relative called them, saying “one of his eyes was closed all the time, and he kept crying”.

When Amin complained to the judge about his treatment, he was told there was “no sign of any beating; you are lying!”.

“I said: ‘Then why are my eyes red?’ And he said: ‘No, everything has been done within the law. You must have resisted arrest or tried to escape.’”

Amin was again transferred to Evin Prison, and this time he was detained for nearly a year, until he was finally freed on bail after undertaking the last of three hunger strikes.

“I became very ill … so they called my family and agreed to release me on bail,” he explains. “They had set a bail of 300 million tomans [around $90,000], but in the end they accepted a bail of 270 million and allowed me to leave Evin. 

“But the impact to my health of that last hunger strike lasted for several months, especially when I first returned home, because after I started eating again – after 21 days of no food – one time I fainted and when I opened my eyes I saw that I was in hospital and attached to a drip. I couldn’t walk properly for several months afterwards.”

By this point, Amin had been sentenced to 15 years in prison: 10 years for “acting against national security by forming a house-church” and five years for “insulting the saints”.

But it was a further three years before his appeal – and those of the Christians sentenced alongside him – was finally rejected.

Amin says he believes the delay was partly down to the international attention their case received – Amnesty International were among the high-profile organisations to call for the sentences to be overturned.

“The government didn’t want the case to cause too much trouble, being aware of all the media pressure that had formed,” Amin says, “and also the conditions the government was in, with the sanctions and [condemnation of its] human rights violations. 

“I think that is why they chose to delay our process. Maybe they were hoping either our case would be quietly dismissed, or the situation in the country would deteriorate so much that condemning some Christians with these cruel sentences would be very normal and no-one would say a thing.” 

Eventually, in December 2018, Amin fled the country, after realising, in his words, that he “couldn’t do anything more in Iran”.

“I miss my country very much,” says Amin. “… I never had any interest in leaving to go and live in another country as an asylum seeker, no matter how good I may find the life there. It was very painful [to leave]. I am still thinking about it after all this time since I left, but when I see that I really couldn’t do anything more [in Iran] and when I hear the news from inside Iran, I see that they are making things more difficult for Christians.”

Amin ends the interview by thanking those who have supported him – whether through prayer, advocacy, or legal efforts, such as his “brave” and “honourable” lawyer Amirsalar Davoudi, who is now serving a long prison sentence of his own just for defending prisoners of conscience like Amin.

“Mr Davoudi was one of those honourable lawyers, who really bravely and faithfully stood and defended, according to the oath he had taken, and the good intentions he had,” Amin says. “But, unfortunately, the government didn’t treat him well and I think he has to endure 15 years in prison – actually the sentence is even higher [30 years], but it is certain he will have to stay in prison for 15 years.”