Foster mother to 12 girls forced out of Iran for ‘leading them away from Islam’

Foster mother to 12 girls forced out of Iran for ‘leading them away from Islam’

Bita and the 12 girls she looked after for over a decade and who she still refers to as her “daughters”.

Foster mother Bita Rezaee was known as “auntie” to the 12 girls she had looked after for over a decade when she was arrested in April 2015.

Her only biological child, Sam, was asleep when five agents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence stormed into their home in Shahin Shahr, near Isfahan, and took Bita away.

It was the day before Sam’s fifth birthday, and he was so traumatised by the incident that he was still visibly affected weeks later. 

And why was his mother arrested? 

Because Bita is a Christian convert, who had set up a refuge for vulnerable young girls – aged between six and nine when they first arrived – which the intelligence agents alleged had been purchased with the help of “foreign Christians”, with the “aim of leading the girls away from Islam”.

Bita strongly denied the claims, telling the agents she had “introduced the girls to the way of Christian forgiveness and love, without mentioning the name of Jesus Christ”, but her protestations fell on deaf ears.

The refuge was forcibly closed and the girls – abused or rejected daughters – were sent into state care, from which several of them later ran away.

Meanwhile, Bita spent much of the next year in prison, while Sam had to live with her estranged husband.

Bita and Sam are now seeking asylum in Germany.

Bita was initially detained for three months – half of which was spent in solitary confinement – in the notorious “A.T.” ward of Isfahan’s Dastgerd Prison.

And during this time, Bita told Article18 she “endured a lot of psychological pressure”. 

“For example, in the middle of the night a man wearing only underwear would come into my cell and throw a blanket into the room,” she explained. “I was very scared that he was going to abuse me.

“I was taken, blindfolded and handcuffed, for interrogation. They kicked me hard in the chair several times, and I fell to the ground.

“I was interrogated for long hours. Because I didn’t have a watch, I didn’t know exactly how long they were interrogating me, but the interrogation started early in the morning, then at around noon, when I was extremely tired, they left the interrogation room to rest and I was left alone. Then they returned and the interrogations continued.

“They kept asking the same questions, loudly and violently. And when I didn’t give the desired answer, they increased the pressure.

“They wanted to get me to confess that I had ‘apostatised’ the children, preached and taught Christianity, and received financial support from other countries. 

“Sometimes a question was repeated 20 times and I had to write the answer 20 times.” 

Bita was eventually released on bail, but a week later she was detained again – this time in Isfahan’s Dolatabad Prison, where she was held for a further three months, mostly in solitary confinement.

“The interrogators wanted to know more about how I’d set up the refuge, and where I’d got the money,” she explained. “They thought we were funded by churches in America.”

Finally, one day, Bita’s name was surprisingly read out among the prisoners who would be released that day, but before the year was out, in December 2015, Bita was imprisoned for a third time – again in Dolatabad Prison – for another three months.

“During all this time I was not allowed to get a lawyer,” Bita explained. “But anyway the lawyers I spoke to about my case were reluctant to accept my representation because my case was a ‘security’ case and the prosecutor was the Ministry of Intelligence.”

Bita was finally released in March 2016, having been forced to sign a commitment to refrain from engaging in any kind of work – whether involving children or not – ever again.

For the next two years, Bita was regularly summoned for interrogation, asked about her activities, and warned that she was being watched. 

“They asked me about a particular Christian pastor,” Bita told Article18. “I was asked to contact this person and take the names of Persian-speaking believers from him and pass them on to the intelligence agents. Basically, I was asked to spy on my faithful brothers in church. I didn’t accept their offer, and they threatened to detain me again if I didn’t cooperate.”

During one interrogation, when Bita was blindfolded, the agent kicked the chair from beneath her feet, and her head smacked against the wall, leaving her with a nasty eye injury. 

When her father saw the wound, he told her it was time for her to leave Iran.

Though Bita initially resisted, she explained that even after the case against her was closed and her bail returned to her, “the security agents kept calling me regularly and asking various questions: ‘Where are you now? What are you doing?’ And they repeatedly warned me that ‘You are not allowed to do any work or activity, not even as the secretary of an office, until you return to Islam and prove that you are a Muslim.’”

Finally, in April 2018, three years after her initial arrest and just a few days before Sam’s eighth birthday, Bita and Sam flew to Germany, where they are now seeking asylum.

Sam is now 11 and is excelling in his new school, while Bita is now “auntie” to the children of many other refugee families.

Their asylum claims have not yet been accepted, but Bita is hopeful that she and Sam can forge a new life for themselves in Germany. Perhaps in time she may even be able to work with children again.

But Bita is often tearful as she talks about the “daughters” and beloved homeland that she was forced to leave behind.

“After my release, I had to hide my Bible somewhere every night, so that if the agents came to arrest me, they wouldn’t be able to find it,” Bita explained. 

“I couldn’t do any work or any other activities. 

“Because I was constantly under the control of the Ministry of Intelligence, I finally forced myself to leave Iran.”