Notes from Prison

10. The Fateful Day Arrives

10. The Fateful Day Arrives

This is the tenth in a series of articles by Mojtaba Hosseini, an Iranian convert to Christianity who spent more than three years in prison in the southern city of Shiraz because of his membership of a house-church. Mojtaba’s first note from prison explained his journey to faith and the first of his two subsequent arrests; his second detailed his long interrogation; his third explained the desperation and loneliness of solitary confinement and his fourth described some of the dreams and visions he had in solitary. His fifth note described his court hearing, his sixth his first moments in prison, and his seventh his emotions in the moments and days after his release on bail. In his eighth note Mojtaba recounted his year-long trial, and his ninth explained living in the constant expectation of re-arrest. In this tenth note, that long-awaiting day arrives.

One winter night in 2012, we had gathered at a friend’s house for our Christian worship meeting, and as usual part of our worship was singing songs that spoke of God’s love, sovereignty and victory, and as we were singing, the doorbell rang and there was also a knock on the door. 

We had continued to sing as the landlord went to open the door, when suddenly about 30 plainclothes agents of the Ministry of Intelligence violently raided the property, while shouting. 

It was a strange moment. I was both in a state of shock, but also telling myself that the moment I had been waiting for had finally arrived. A thousand and one thoughts came to my mind: what would this mean for my mother, my family? It hadn’t been more than a year since my father had died, and now I was definitely going to jail. 

I also thought of the other church members in the room, especially vulnerable ones like the women and children.

The children had actually been in another room with their teacher, but after hearing the screams some had come out and were standing there in shock, and some of them were crying. This was one of the most painful scenes I had ever witnessed, and I know for sure that this awful experience has impacted those children psychologically to this day. 

The atmosphere in the house had become extremely dark and oppressive. It was suffocating, and I felt as though the roof had fallen in on me. The mothers were all in tears, and the children were looking around for their parents but weren’t allowed to join them by the cruel agents, who instead sent them into another room along with one of the agents. 

My younger brother was also among these children, and I was exploding from the inside, and all I could think about was his safety, and the safety of the other children and women. Meanwhile, we were all given pieces of paper, on which were written a number of personal questions and other questions related to our meetings, and one of the agents all the time filmed everybody and everything that happened.

Then I and the other active members of the group were handcuffed, and each of us were taken in separate vehicles to our homes, which they searched, confiscating all Christian items. 

A forbidden faith

On the drive to my home, when I looked out at the city streets, I suddenly felt as though I was a stranger in the place where I had been born, and as if I no longer belonged there. 

Because I wasn’t free. I couldn’t live the way I wanted. And why was it that my way of thinking, my beliefs and my faith were forbidden? How is it possible that you can be arrested and imprisoned without committing any crime, without harming anyone? And actually even when your beliefs mean that you hope and pray for the best of everyone in society – whether your relatives or anyone else.

Well, after they had confiscated the Christian items and books, as well as some of my other personal belongings – all while I was still in handcuffs – they blindfolded me and put me back into the car. And at no point did they show any documents from the court to justify their unjust actions, which were in fact against the law.

As I got back into the car, my mother was unable to speak one word, and only looked at me from a distance, with tears in her eyes and a face on which was etched a thousand worries, prayers, hopes and words. That look brought a pain to my heart that is still with me today. Sometimes I even blame myself for being the cause of all the pain my mother experienced.

But God, in His kindness and grace, comforts me and assures me that the blame does not rest with me, and that it is not my beliefs that have caused my mother’s suffering, but the injustice and oppression of wicked men. And I know too that God is the just judge, and that he responds to injustice and is working everything for the ultimate good of me and my family. All I have to worry about is that I continue to do his will, knowing that one day the time will come for almighty God to bring his own judgement on those truly responsible.

Familiar surroundings

Just like the last time, I was taken to the Ministry of Intelligence detention centre, “Pelak-e 100”, and placed in solitary confinement. 

Even the cell was the very same as the one I had spent three weeks in almost three years previously. And being back there again, it was as if all the pain and memories from my previous experience were being relived, making my renewed imprisonment even more difficult.

The only difference was that this time I knew my chances of being released were much slimmer. I knew very well that by continuing my activities after my first arrest, my re-arrest would mean the implementation of my previous sentence – so at least eight months in prison, in addition to whatever new sentence would be given to me, which would undoubtedly be greater than the first. It was very hard to accept this, and to confront the reality that that my future prospects were lengthy imprisonment and separation from my friends, family, hopes and dreams.

The next morning, without being taken to any court, which seemed very strange, I was told the new charges against me by a female interrogator of the Shiraz Revolutionary Court named Ms Zare.

The charges were: “forming illegal groups” – meaning the house-church meetings – “propaganda against the regime”, “acting against the security of the regime”, and “insulting the sacred”, meaning “blasphemy” and of which I was later acquitted. 

The interrogations started the next day. During the 33 days I was held in solitary confinement, I was taken for at least 10 intense and prolonged interrogations. And this time, the interrogators’ behaviour was completely different. 

They said they used different language to discipline “criminals”, so with ugly insults and death threats, we were all subjected to psychological torture. For example, I remember that during one interrogation they said: “Some of you will be executed, and some of you will be sentenced to 30 years in prison.”

And they were constantly trying to make us suspicious of each other by making up false stories and claims, and saying that they knew everything about our lives.

And afterwards, being taken back to solitary confinement, carrying all the burdens and pressure of those interrogations, was exhausting. In that lonely environment, all those words and threats surrounded me, as well as my worries for my family and the other church members.

It was like an enormous stone had been placed on top of my chest, or that the world had become a small box in which even breathing was no longer easy.

And these days were made even more difficult by not being permitted even one visit or call from a family member.

I decided that I would avoid eating, and instead spend every day in fasting, prayer and worship. And through this I found amazing strength. I had found myself on the frontlines of a war in which I had to fight at all times against my own anxieties, as well as the attacks of the enemies of the Bible.

Then, after 18 days of fasting, when the pressure was at its greatest and I had lost a lot of weight, something happened that made it easier for me to continue to endure my confinement…