‘I carry the grief of my son’s death like a suppressed cry’

‘I carry the grief of my son’s death like a suppressed cry’

Yasser (left) and his son, Amir-Ali, who died while his father was in prison.

An Iranian Christian prisoner of conscience has written about his grief at the loss of his only son and his struggle to understand the reason for his imprisonment, in a letter smuggled out of prison.

In the letter, first shared by the Mirror newspaper and now seen by Article18, Mehdi Akbari, who prefers to be known as Yasser, says he carries the grief within him “like a suppressed cry and an unexpressed sorrow”.

He is also brutally honest about the difficulties he has faced since his 2019 arrest, such as being detained for a month in solitary confinement, denied access to a lawyer, and convicted in a five-minute sham trial.

The Christian convert says that even after three years in Tehran’s Evin Prison, he is still unable to understand how his membership of a house-church could have been viewed as an “action against national security” – the charge for which he was sentenced in 2020 to 10 years’ imprisonment.

“Is worshipping God a crime?” he asks. “When I was accused of ‘action against the country’s security’, I did not have a lawyer to ask him about the meaning of this accusation and what crimes are included in the definition.”

Yasser says that before he was taken to the Revolutionary Court, he had thought “a fair judge, well aware of what constitutes a crime, especially the serious crime I was accused of, would examine the evidence presented before him and realise I have only worshipped God according to my Christian faith, permissible under Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution, and therefore acquit me of any crime and save me from prison”. 

Amir-Ali had cerebral palsy.

“But what an illusion that was!” he adds.

Yasser describes his court hearing as “hundreds of times worse than the interrogations”, explaining: “If the interrogators tried to impose one crime on me, in this court the judge attributed many more crimes to me that beforehand I could never have imagined. 

He labelled Christianity a ‘false sect’, of which he said I was a follower. He expanded the boundaries of criminalisation against me so ignorantly that he even mistakenly seemed to consider Jews and Christians as followers of the same religion. He declared me a follower of ‘the deviant religion of Christianity’, and also ‘a Jewish person affiliated to Israel’.”

“Now that I have spent three years in prison,” Yasser says, “I still do not know how I was able to act against Iran’s national security by being a follower of Christ. 

“Having no lawyer, I still don’t know how to defend myself within the framework of the law, considering what they did to me. I don’t know what to say if someone asked me how I acted against national security. I only know that I am, and will remain, a Christian, and that I will preach about the light of God and kingdom of heaven to everyone.”

Yasser says his experiences have tormented his soul as well as his body, saying: “If a prisoner loses his faith, he will surely be crushed.” 

“When the night drags its black mantle over the prison,” he writes, “and the sadness sinks in with the sunset, the beats of the seconds of the clock hit like a whip in my mind, and I begin to wonder: I wonder if this faith of mine is worth enduring such pressures.”

“Time and time again, I have found myself surrounded with these thoughts,” Yasser says, “and each time I have answered firmly: ‘Yes, of course it is worth it.’”

Yasser says that he was shocked when the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court both confirmed the verdict against him, and says he hopes his imprisonment may at least make a difference to others.

Yasser (left) with Mehdi Rokhparvar, alongside whom he was imprisoned.

“If my presence within these prison walls means that I would be the last prisoner of conscience, and causes other religious minorities of my country to be able to freely worship God according to their own faiths, as stipulated in Article 13 of the Constitution, then not only do I have no complaints but I accept it with love,” he writes.

“Perhaps it is necessary for everyone to be made aware that, in my country, despite the laws and Constitution, they consider Christianity a ‘deviant faith’, and with no reason they consider worshipping God in this way to be a collusion with foreign governments, punishable by a judicial ruling.” 

“Yes, it may be necessary,” he concludes, “but what else should I do from behind these walls? I do not know. Perhaps the truth should be told without exaggeration, so that everyone hears.”

As reported by the Mirror, Yasser also shares in his letter about his final moments with his son, whom he eventually achieved permission to visit – “after writing dozens of letters” – two months before he died. 

“When Amir-Ali saw me in handcuffs and prison clothes, he was reassured that I had not abandoned him, even in such conditions,” Yasser writes. “It was as though my son had endured his painful illness for just a little longer so we might have one final chance to meet, albeit in prison clothes and in the presence of officers. 

“Due to the court order, I had to go back to my cell, but I consider the best moment of my life to be the last time I hugged my Amir-Ali.

“Two months later, Amir-Ali passed away. I mourned his loss in prison, and bemoaned my sense of remorse for not being by his bedside in his last moments. The prison authorities did not agree to a short leave from prison for me to attend Amir-Ali’s burial. Only a few days afterwards was I sent on leave for 10 days.”

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