Notes from Prison

2. Interrogation

2. Interrogation

This is the second 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. In his second note, Mojtaba recalls his first day in detention, including many hours of interrogation and, when he failed to provide the desired information, his transfer to solitary confinement.

During the first day of my detention by the Ministry of Intelligence, in the spring of 2007, I sat facing the wall in a small cell, with my hands bound, for almost 10 hours.

The blindfold that had been placed over my eyes during my arrest was still on my face, and I wasn’t allowed to remove it, nor even to move my hands.

I had been led to my cell along a corridor, which was now behind me, and every time I heard footsteps I was overwhelmed with fear that someone was coming for me.

At first it seemed to me that I’d been blindfolded so that I couldn’t see where I was, but over time it impacted me in a different way. I didn’t know where I was or what my crime was. Why was I being treated in such an aggressive manner? I had been blindfolded, taken to an unknown place and was unable to move at all. All these things sent a clear message: “You are weak, and completely under our control, and you can’t do anything but surrender to all our demands.”

In such an intense situation, not having any news from my family – just constantly waiting and expecting something terrible to happen to me or to them – caused me to imagine every kind of horrible situation, like torture, or anything else that could threaten my life, and this created such intense anxiety within me.

In such a state, all your senses are heightened and your fears are overwhelming to the point that you lose your ability to think calmly and rationally.

On the other hand, my faith in Jesus Christ and what he said and promised in his Word helped me to fight against all these thoughts and feelings. He who’d released me from all spiritual and invisible prisons, which no ordinary man could do, surely had more power than those who’d bound me in this prison. I knew deep down that he was my strong king and faithful shepherd who would protect me. This faith was like a firm anchor in the storm, which I could rely on in the midst of my fears and uncertainties.

During this time, prayer, worship songs and recalling verses from the Word of God, especially the Psalms, were especially helpful to me.

A familiar voice

As I wrestled with my thoughts, I became aware of a familiar voice from the next cell, praying with the words “Oh, heavenly father!”, and as I listened carefully, I realised it was the voice of another member of my house-church.

I was so happy to hear his familiar voice, and to know I wasn’t alone, though I was also concerned that he’d been arrested too. I was especially worried when they came and took him, and I didn’t know what had happened to him. In the end I realised that a number of other members of our church were also there.

The hours passed, and I heard the third Islamic prayer of the day over the speakers, so I realised it was almost eight o’clock in the evening. 

Apart from emotional stress, I was also experiencing physical exhaustion, having been sat on a chair for so long, unable to move.

I hadn’t expected I would be made to wait for more than a few hours, and I become really upset and frustrated, wondering: “What crime have I committed that requires me to sit here, like this, for so long?”

I was slowly losing hope until, finally, someone came in, took off my handcuffs, and led me to another room for my interrogation.

A strange courage

I was blindfolded all the time as I was taken to the corner of the room, beside the wall, and the interrogator spoke to me from behind.

As soon as the interrogation began, despite all the tiredness and intense stress that I felt, a strange courage came into my heart, which was overwhelming.

The interrogator pretended to be friendly and kind, acting like nothing had happened and that everything was very normal. He did it intentionally to make me think he’d help me if I answered his questions, but the only goals they really had were to collect enough information to convict me and to find out more about the other church members. He put a sheet of paper in front of me, then left. 

At the beginning of the interrogation, although I was so tired and under pressure, I remembered what Jesus had said in Matthew 10:17–20:

“Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings, as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

I was really encouraged, and started to rely on this in prayer: “Oh Holy Spirit, please come and speak through me and don’t let me say any words that aren’t in your will. Fill me with your wisdom.”

A number of questions were written on the sheet, like “how did you come to believe in Christ?” and “what church activities were you involved in?”

But I knew that, whatever I did, I shouldn’t write the truth. So to some of the questions, I wrote: “I have no answer”, and to the others I just drew a dash.

After about half an hour, the interrogator came back and saw what I’d done, then smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it.

“Do you know where you are?” he asked.

“No, I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve been blindfolded the whole time and I don’t know why I’m here.”

He replied: “This is the Ministry of Intelligence. And, at the authority of the Supreme Leader, I can do whatever I like to you. Even take your life. Who do you think you are?”

Then he put another sheet in front of me, with exactly the same questions, and said: “When I come back, I want to see some convincing answers.” But I only wrote the same things as the last time.

It was about 10pm by now, and there was complete silence. After a few minutes he returned and, angry at seeing the same answers, said: “You’d better not make things worse for yourself! All your friends have done what we asked of them and they’ve gone home to their families, so why don’t you do the same?”

I knew he was lying and just trying to break me. It was so late, and in that moment’s silence I’d felt a great loneliness, but also a strange sense of courage and pride, which I knew hadn’t come from myself. It was a great testimony of God’s presence in my heart. It was only two years since I’d decided to follow Jesus, and I was experiencing him in such a unique way, despite being detained and my life being in great danger. The courage I felt proved that he was alive in me. It’s very exciting when you see that you’re changing into a different person.

A change of approach

Suddenly another officer came and started speaking in a more friendly way, but still with indirect threats like telling me stories about what happened to people who didn’t cooperate.

He was trying to instil fear within me, even with his seemingly friendly advice, but the courageous power within my heart was stronger.

I knew they had no real desire to make my situation better, but even so I was tempted, under such intense pressure, to give into their demands and tell them what they wanted to hear.

The previous interrogator came back and saw I’d answered again in exactly the same way. He was furious and told one of the guards: “Change his clothes and take him to solitary confinement!” So I was forced to change out of my regular clothes into prison clothes, and was led into the cell.

Upon hearing the words “solitary confinement”, I was both shocked and terrified.

“What crime have I committed that you would place me in solitary confinement?” I asked.

But he continued to refrain from stating my crime out loud, and only said: “This is the consequence of failing to do all that we ask you. Only you have the power to determine how things will go for you from now on.”

As I was being taken to solitary confinement, I felt overwhelmed, even thinking that staying for one night in that place was too difficult to comprehend as an ordinary 20-year-old. I kept thinking of my family, especially my mum, imagining how distraught she must be. But at the same time I remembered again Jesus saying that we would suffer for his sake, be put in prison and even tortured, but that he had also said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I was experiencing something really unique: what I had read in the Word of God, things these were now happening in my life exactly the way Jesus had said 2,000 years before. 

The guard took me to a room, took my clothes and gave me a stripey grey prisoner’s uniform. Then he led me to the solitary-confinement cell. 

As I entered, overcome with loneliness, I burst into tears. It was a small room, 6m x 2m, with a toilet at one end. The light was on, day and night. On the metal door there was a small window through which they would pass the food. There was nothing in the room apart from a blanket and pillow. That night I could hardly sleep, and even when I drifted off I had many nightmares. 

In addition to the blindfold and handcuffs, experiencing that tight cell with the closed metal door made me feel completely bound, like I was sinking down into a swamp. But in that moment, I wasn’t thinking: “If there is a God, why did he let all these things happen?” In contrast, it made me consider how real my faith was. And this faith was like a strong branch from a tree above the swamp, which I could easily hold onto to prevent me from sinking. 

It was impossible for me to deny and forget the great work of Jesus Christ both in my own life and in my family, even for one second. I had changed into someone totally new and this was much more valuable to me than my freedom from prison. So in the midst of these troubles, this truth helped me to worship God and give thanks to him instead of complaining and doubting him because of the situation I found myself in. 

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