Witness Statements

Nima Rezaei

Nima Rezaei

For a summary of Nima’s story, you can read our feature article here.


1. My name is Nima Rezaei and I was born in 1979 in the city of Sari, in Mazandaran province [northern Iran]. When I was 40 days old, my father died in an accident. Since my mother was born in Chalus [100 miles west of Sari], we moved to Chalus after my father died, and I grew up there. I left my secondary-school education unfinished and went into military service. My family wasn’t religious, and I didn’t believe in anything.

2. As a teenager, my mother shared with us the many hardships she had endured in the absence of my father to raise her children. The absence of my father and hearing the story of my mother’s hardships also had a devastating effect on me. This was the reason I started using drugs. At first I used them as a kind of hobby, but then I became so addicted that I needed to take them every day. During my military service, I was sent to prison for about three months for drug use, and I also had to do nine months’ extra military service. After completing my military service, my addiction worsened and I started using heroin. My addiction also caused me to be unemployed. My sleeping and waking hours were the opposite of the general public, and I just wandered around like a corpse. My drug use continued in this way for 13 years, until 2005.

3. During these years I had made many attempts to quit. Many times I had tried to stay away from drugs – either at home, or by going into the forest or to other cities. But every time, after a little while, I would go back to using drugs and I had given up hope that one day I might be able to rid myself of my addiction, which had left me isolated and depressed. 

4. However, after 13 years of drug use, a friend of mine suggested I join Narcotics Anonymous to help me quit. He said: “This association will help you to stay clean and free from addiction, and your life will change.” So I went to a rehab camp and was freed from my addiction. I didn’t use any drugs for around two or three months, but nevertheless I remained spiritually poor and hungry. It was around this time that another friend of mine gave me a Bible. I started reading it, but I didn’t understand it. My friend had just become a Christian, so I asked him: “Is there anyone who can explain the contents of this book to me?” My friend said that he knew someone who could, and promised to arrange a meeting with them so I could talk to them about Christianity and have my questions about the Bible answered. About three to four days later, my friend arranged the meeting, and we went to this person’s house together. This individual talked to me about Christianity, and on that very day, in 2006, I knelt down and became a Christian. And from that day on, I started attending the house-church.

5. We had house-church meetings together once or twice a week. My family and friends were amazed by how much I had changed. I hadn’t even wanted to leave the house for three or four years; I had been so isolated. But now my face had even changed and I was able to talk with people without embarrassment. I had become a useful member of society, working, and taking responsibility for my life. Close friends asked me: “How did your life change so much? We think of you so differently now. Your face has even changed!” These questions led me to share my story of becoming a Christian with them, and some of them also became Christians. Many of my family members also became Christians and attended house-church meetings. Meetings were held at one of the member’s homes each week, and I also became friends with the other members and we did things together during the week. I met my wife at these house-church meetings, and we married in 2007.

6. After a little while, a member of our house-church asked an Evangelical church in Tehran to send someone to Mazandaran to teach us more about Christianity and answer our questions. The church agreed, and so a Christian couple came to Mazandaran once every two to three weeks and stayed with us for a few days, teaching us. After a while we realised that our knowledge of Christianity and the Bible had grown, and began to talk to more friends and other people about Christianity, and many became Christians, and the number of our members increased.

First incident

7. But during this time, a spy from the Ministry of Intelligence Service (MOIS) had entered our house-church, and finally, one day in 2007, intelligence agents raided the homes of my wife’s father and his two brothers in three concurrent raids. They searched their homes, confiscated mobile phones, books, pamphlets, family photos, and anything related to Christianity. The MOIS then called all of us [church members] and said: “Come to the MOIS building in Nowshahr [near Chalus] tomorrow morning,” and told us where it was.

Interrogation in the building of the Ministry of Intelligence

8. So the next day we went to the MOIS building in Nowshahr. We were taken to separate rooms, and each one of us had our own interrogator. They had a lot of information about us, because of the spy from the MOIS who had infiltrated our church. It was also obvious from their questions that they had been monitoring our telephone conversations. 

9. The interrogator asked me: “Are you a Christian?” I am an honest and straightforward person, so I replied: “Yes. You know everything about me. I was an addict and God healed me. The gospel changed my life, so now I’m a follower of Jesus Christ.” The interrogator handed me a piece of paper and said: “Write down your testimony and life story from your childhood until now.” I had nothing to hide, so I wrote down everything about my story of becoming a Christian.

10. After two hours, the interrogator said: “You didn’t write down everything! We have a lot of plans for what we’re going to do with you!” Then he said: “Israel wants to destroy Islam by using Christianity, and you’re a toy and accomplice of Israel, and are advancing their goals!” I replied: “Sir! I was an addict who was healed; I don’t know anything about Israel, or the United States or Britain! My life story is only what I have written down for you. You know very well why I’m here now; you know from my past that I was an addict and a drug-dealer. But today God has healed me and changed the course of my life. What harm can I do to this country, or Islam, that you are cursing me like this? If I no longer steal, will that be an attack against Islam? If I no longer encourage people to become addicted to drugs but instead spend time with them to help them rid themselves of the disease of addiction and turn from this way, is this against Islam and this country?”

11. The interrogator threatened me with a loud voice, shouting at me: “We have beaten, murdered and executed many people! They were also against Islam and were waging a cold war against us! Turning away from Islam is apostasy; you are infidels who are against this regime and our country!” I replied: “The law does not say so! According to human rights principles, everyone is free to choose their own path and beliefs, and follow their own way. We respect the law, and everyone, regardless of their creed or race, should be respected as a human being. Anyway, not only are we no threat to society today, in fact we are actually beneficial to society!” In response, the interrogator got up and shouted loudly at me. I also got up and tore up all the sheets I had written over the past two or three hours, threw them in the bin and said: “Sir, I refuse to continue with this interrogation any longer, because you speak as if you’re not only the interrogator but also the judge! You’ve already proclaiming our death sentence, and constantly threatening me that ‘I’ll execute you’, so there’s no need for any interrogation if you’ve already issued the sentence!”

12. As I was saying this I started to cry. I was upset that I lived in a country where I could be so coerced and my citizenship rights so disrespected; that they could so easily accuse me and condemn me with just one stroke of a pen. I felt that God wanted me to stand up to them, with authority.

13. As mine and the interrogator’s voices both rose, and an argument broke out between us, several other officers entered the room, took the interrogator out, and brought me a glass of water. Then one of them said: “Your interrogator is the head of the Mazandaran intelligence service. You are fighting against the regime, and against an agent of the regime!”

14. Another person entered the room and introduced himself as the head of the intelligence service in Nowshahr, and said: “Sign this form if you want to get out of here; otherwise you won’t be allowed to leave, and with all the noise you’ve made it isn’t clear what may become of you.” They wouldn’t let me say anything more. As soon as I started to open my mouth to speak, they would interrupt me. So eventually I was forced to sign this long pledge, written by the head of the Nowshahr intelligence service, and then I was released, at around noon. When I came out, I discovered that the other Christians who had also come to that place for interrogation had left a few hours before me, and only my interrogation had lasted so long.

Religious re-education sessions

15. About 10 days later, we received calls from a private number, and it was the MOIS telling us to go to another address at a specific time on such and such a date. So on that date, we went to the address we had been given, and entered a room in which there was a large table. Then an individual was ushered in, who introduced himself as an expert of Islamic theology who also taught at the university. There were about 10 to 15 of us Christians there in total, including some I didn’t know, and we all sat around the table. Someone was filming us, and there were biscuits and water on the table. It was as if they wanted to pretend in front of the camera that they were treating us with respect. The theologian spoke to us for about two hours. He spoke about God, Earth, Heaven, Islamic law, and so on. When he finished explaining things about Islam, he said: “If you have any questions, I am at your service.” He thought that our problem was that we didn’t know enough about Islam, and that’s why we had become Christians, and he wanted to convince us to return to Islam. “A good tree is known by its fruit [Luke 6:44],” I replied. “If the path we were on was a bad one, the fruit of our lives today would be rotten. But the course of our lives has in fact changed for the better [since becoming Christians], and now we are of no harm to anyone. Where once we were miserable, now we are happy!” I even quoted a few verses from the Quran, and also talked about citizenship rights.

16. We talked with this theologian for a few hours, and it felt like the whole aim was to try to coax answers from us that would cause us further trouble if we were arrested. They filmed the whole meeting, so our conversations could be used as additional evidence on top of the pledge they had already made us sign, and so they could file a more serious case against us. But, of course, they told us they had arranged this meeting only so we could be “guided” back onto the right path. This “guidance” session lasted several hours.

17. We were threatened by the MOIS: “You have no right to hold house-church meetings, or even to travel with each other!” They even said: “You don’t even have the right to go to your parents’ house, or to the home of your wife’s uncle! If you even go anywhere together [with other Christians], we’ll file new charges against you! This time we just got a ‘commitment’ from you, and held this guidance meeting. Next time we catch you doing these things, Islamic mercy will no longer apply to you, and you will never again enjoy the taste of freedom! The verdict will simply be issued, and you will be convicted of being apostates who have left the religion of Islam!”

Attending the Evangelical Church in Tehran

18. When the teachers who came from Tehran found out about our arrest and summons, they informed the pastor of the church, and the pastor advised them: “Stop the meetings for a while so the agents’ attention won’t be on them anymore, and then see how things go [before deciding whether to start the meetings again].” So the teachers no longer came to our city to teach us. But after a while we began to consider alternatives, because as Christians we needed to go to church and to be taught and to grow [in our faith], but we no longer had a teacher, neither were we allowed to gather. So after a while, we started to communicate cautiously and secretly with some of the other Christians in our house-church, but many of them were scared and wouldn’t even call us.

19. Finally, we decided to attend the official meetings of an Evangelical Church in Tehran. With one other family, we started to travel in two cars to the church every other week. We shared the cost of the trip between us, to ease the financial burden for each of us, so we might be able to attend the church services without worrying about other things. At first I got a ride with one of the members of the other family who had a car, but after learning the route I began to take my own car or the car of my wife’s uncle.

20. We spoke with the pastor there, and he was happy for us to attend the meetings. He even praised us, saying: “Some Christians live just two streets away from the church and come just once a month, and only because they would be embarrassed to be absent for so long, but you are so eager to attend the meetings!” The pastor also said that in addition to the weekly worship services, he was willing to take responsibility for teaching us about Christianity. We were very happy about this, and being able to learn more about the Bible and also to pass on what we learnt to other Christians in Chalus. We would leave our house in Chalus at about 4 o’clock in the morning on the Friday, and arrive at the church at around 8am. Because the church had about 1,000 members, we wouldn’t be able to find a parking slot if we arrived later. The pastor would then meet with us privately to teach us from 9am until around 10.30, when the church service would begin and go on until around midday. After the meeting, the other church members would socialise and talk with each other, but we had to leave quickly because the road from Karaj to Chalus only opened in one direction at a time, so we needed to get to the Chalus Road between 1-1.30pm.

21. In addition to us, other Christians from Chalus and Nowshahr also came to the services of the Evangelical Church in Tehran, but we didn’t go there all together in one group due to security issues. But everyone knew what time the private teaching started, and arrived there separately. Then in 2010, my wife’s father moved to Tehran, so our travels to and from the church became easier.

22. In those days, until 2011, the pressure on us seemed to have decreased, because we rarely met all together, and when we travelled we tried to do so wisely, considering security concerns. For example, when I went to the house of other Christians in Chalus to teach them about Christianity, I wouldn’t take my mobile phone with me, so our conversations couldn’t be overheard, or my travel routes monitored.

Arrest and house search

23. But one day in 2011, the pastor of the AoG church said the government had sent churches letters, explaining that in order to be officially recognised all church members must provide the church with a copy of their national ID card. The pastor told us: “This is your personal decision; we won’t force anyone, but anyone who wants to can submit a copy of their national card.” We consulted with the other family, and decided together that the best option would be to provide copies of our national ID cards and therefore be recognised as official members of the church. Then, if we were arrested, we could prove we hadn’t done anything secretly but had only attended official services as members of the church; if we didn’t, we knew the agents of the MOIS wouldn’t accept whatever excuse we may give them. I handed over a copy of my national ID card about two weeks later. 

24. Then, in early March 2012, a person from the MOIS called me on a private number and asked me where I was. I explained that I had taken my car to a mechanic to be repaired. He asked for the mechanic’s address, and less than 10 minutes later a Samand car pulled up outside. My car was inside and my friend was replacing some parts when a man wearing a woolly hat got out of the Samand car and said: “Mr. Nima Rezaei?” I said: “Yes.” He said: “I’ll wait for you in the car.” So I gave my car documents to my friend, and said: “Please keep hold of these, and if I can’t come myself, one of my family members will come and pick up the car and documents tomorrow.” My friend wanted to know what was going on, but I just told him: “We’ll talk later.” Then I got into the Samand car. The agent didn’t show me any warrant. He just drove us away, then after a while pulled over by the side of the road. Then he made a call, and after 10 minutes, at around 7 or 8pm, another car carrying four agents arrived and took me with them to my house.

25. I didn’t have a key with me, and my wife had gone to her mother’s house, so they took me there to get the key from her, and I used the opportunity to explain to my wife what had happened. Then the agents took me back to our house. When we arrived, the agents searched the house, and confiscated a number of Christian pamphlets, a Bible, a satellite receiver, a photo of the Last Supper, and things like that. I protested: “I bought this Christian photo from a shop in town! So it isn’t a crime for someone to sell it, but when this photo is in my house, it is a crime?” “Yes!” he said. “It’s a crime for you! For you, who has Zionist thoughts; for you criminals, it is a crime!” They put me in the car again, and one of them took a blindfold from the boot,‌ blindfolded me, and told me to lower my head. Then they started the car and took me to a place I later found out was the building of the MOIS.

26. They kept me blindfolded in one room for about an hour, and after being transferred to a second room, I had to wait there for another half an hour. Finally, someone came into the room and told me to take off my blindfold. “I am the judge in your case,” he told me as I lifted my blindfold. I asked, in surprise: “The judge in my case? What case?” He said: “You are here on charges of ‘acting against national security and the holy regime of the Islamic Republic by promoting Christianity’.” He interrogated me for several hours; he brought out a few sheets of paper and told me to write down everything about my life from my childhood until today – every stage of life from my education to my military service, etc. – and also where and with whom I had gathered in the house-church, and what other Christians I knew from there. Then, once I’d done all this, finally he signed a form of some kind, and put it into the thick file that he was holding. I don’t know what reports could have been collected against me to make up such a large file! Half an hour later, an agent came, took my blindfold, and after shouting at me and insulting me a lot, said to me: “You were guided [in the session with the Islamic scholar], but still you didn’t become human again. Let’s go!” Then I was taken by car to Sari, which is the provincial capital.

Interrogation and solitary confinement in the detention centre of the MOIS in Sari

27. When we arrived in Sari, they blindfolded me again and took me to the MOIS detention centre. The person in charge of the detention centre took off all of my clothes and searched me. I was then transferred to solitary confinement. My cell was about 3×4 metres, and there was a toilet in it. In the days that followed, I had no idea about the passage of time, or even whether it was day or night. The prison guard would pass me meals under the door, but never said a word.

28. I wasn’t taken for questioning for the first week or so, and it felt like the interrogators had forgotten about me. There were no sounds at all, and no-one approached me or talked to me. There was an ant in my cell, and I grabbed it and talked to it. I also prayed and worshipped God during these days, but the silence in the cell really bothered me. I thought to myself: what is going to happen, and where will this journey end? Where are my wife and daughter at this moment? What are they doing, and how are they feeling? The pressures were great, and only through prayer and worship could I overcome them, strengthen my faith, and endure this time.

29. After about a week, the interrogations began. The interrogator told me: “We were watching you, and we know where you went and what you did. For example, one day you went to this place to repair the gearbox of your car. And last month you went hunting on this mountain.” Then, after boasting about these general bits of information, he told me: “You should tell us the names of the Christians you know in different parts of Mazandaran, and cooperate with us in this way.” I replied: “Ask any questions you have about me and my life, and I’ll answer. But I won’t go poking my nose into other people’s lives, which have nothing to do with me. And anyway I don’t know anyone.” The interrogator said: “You mean to tell me you didn’t get to know a single person in the church?” I said: “We called everyone ‘brother’ and ‘sister’; we had no idea about people’s names or surnames.”

30. The interrogator threatened me a lot, saying: “The Ministry of Intelligence Service has the power to do many things. Basically the judge signs whatever we have written, so if you don’t cooperate with us, we’ll deprive you of your opportunity to live life, and take away any chance you have of happiness.” But despite all the pressure and threats, I tried not to give them any information about other Christians. The interrogator kept saying that they had witnesses against me. I replied: “If you have a witness, bring him so that I can see him as well.”

31. Then, during one of the interrogations, I noticed that someone was sitting behind me. The agent who had arrested me was also there. At one point, the interrogator smiled at the person sitting behind me and said: “This is Rezaei? The same Rezaei? He is very different today!” And then he continued the interrogation again. But of course the question on my mind was who was sitting behind me and what the interrogator had meant. Finally, half an hour later, this person was brought to sit in front of me and I saw his face, and it was the same interrogator who after my arrest in 2007 had threatened me a lot that I would be executed, and in whose presence I had torn up those interrogation sheets and asked him why he was interrogating me if he going to execute me anyway. My interrogator said: “Look how humble we have made him now! Look how calm he is; how he just sits calmly here.” I replied: “You didn’t make my life calm. Rather, when my life was a storm, Jesus Christ entered my life and calmed it. This peace is the work of God’s grace. God has brought this peace into my life.”

32. realised from the interrogator’s precise information about my relationship with some members of the Evangelical Church in Tehran that they must have several spies there who reported everything that happened in the church to the MOIS. I know that one of them was a family member of Mohsen Rezaei Mir Ghaed, the former head of the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] and at church he had become very close to my father-in-law. So though he attended the church services and prayed with us, at the same time he was reporting our most detailed conversations to the MOIS.

33. I had cold, hard nights in detention. They used the fact that I couldn’t communicate with my family against me by saying things like: “Did you know your uncle is dead?” Or: “How would you cope if you never saw your wife and daughter again? If you insist on continuing on your current path, bad things will happen to you, and your wife and daughter. How far are you willing to go? What is your decision?”

34. After 17 days, during which my family hadn’t had any information about my whereabouts, or even which state agency had arrested me, finally they allowed me to call home. But they only allowed me to talk to my family for about 3-4 minutes.

35. I was held in solitary confinement for 28 days in total, and during this time I was taken for interrogation about 10 to 12 times.

Bail and temporary release

36. After those 28 days, I was again blindfolded and taken back to the MOIS office. Someone entered the room and ordered for my blindfold to be removed. Then, after one of the officers took off the blindfold, I saw that the person who had given the order was the same judge who had dealt with me before. “You have to provide a document,” he told me. “Here is a phone; you can use it.” I asked, in surprise: “What document? For what?” He said: “You have to submit a document as bail so that you can be released temporarily until the court hearing and issuance of the verdict. Tomorrow is Nowruz, and then it is the holidays, so if no-one can submit a document by tomorrow, you’ll have to wait until after the holidays to be released.” So I called home and asked for someone to bring a document to Branch 4 of the Nowshahr General Court, as directed. With a lot of effort, my family was able to bail me out at the last minute. One of my cousin’s friends had pledged his father’s property deed for me, and so I was released temporarily. I don’t remember the exact amount that was required for my bail now, but I think it was around 50 to 100 million tomans [$25,000-$50,000]. 

Court hearing and sentencing

37. In the spring or summer of 2012, a summons came for me and about five other Christians to appear in the Revolutionary Court of Shahsavar [in Tonekabon, 50km west of Chalus] a few weeks later. When we arrived, the judge called us all into the courtroom, where, in addition to the judge, there was also a secretary. The judge read through the document containing the charges against us, and said: “You have acted against national security and the holy regime, so your crime is both political and religious! You are against the regime; do you have anything to say in your defence?” We didn’t have a lawyer, so we defended ourselves. I objected to the unfairness and irrationality of the accusations, and to the lack of clear legal justification. The judge’s response was aggressive. When I emphasised that I had rights, like freedom of expression, he said: “If you talk too much, I’ll kick you out of here! You must repent, each of you in turn, and write and sign letters of repentance, so that I can give you a lesser sentence in the verdict that is going to be issued! Otherwise, I’ll do everything I can against you! This is an Islamic country, so from where did you get these ideas? You don’t pay attention to Islamic teachings and books! You are working with those on the other side of the world, with Zionists, to destroy the regime!”

38. Finally, the judge gave us 24 to 48 hours to write these letters of repentance and requests for forgiveness. “You should write that ‘We want to return to Islam’, and ‘Please consider Islamic mercy for us,’” he said. “Write this, and sign it; otherwise something else might happen to you.” We left the room and consulted with each other, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible to talk logically with these people and do what they said, because everything was in their hands.

39. On 26 August 2012, a court verdict was issued and we were notified of it. My friends and I were sentenced to six months in prison for “propaganda activities against the Islamic Republic through Protestant Christianity”.

40. It seemed pointless to hire a lawyer because the case against us had been brought by the Ministry of Intelligence, but we appealed anyway, by getting someone outside the court to write a short appeal for us. But in the autumn of 2013 we were notified that the Court of Appeal had upheld the verdict. The head of the court, Seyyed Mohammad Miri, and his deputy, Baqer Babaei, had stressed in their written decision that “in order to protect the ‘internal front’ of the Islamic state and to prevent its disintegration and the influence of foreigners, it is appropriate to impose such a punishment”.

41. I felt that I had a duty to ensure the release of my cousin’s friend’s property deed. He had done me a favour by pledging his father’s property deed as bail, so I told my father-in-law: “I am going to serve the six months in prison so the property deed will be released. I am willing to pay the price for my faith in Jesus Christ.” Then, in January 2013, I submitted myself to the authorities at Nowshahr Prison to begin my sentence, and my cousin’s friend’s document was released.

Imprisonment for being a Christian

42. I spent six months in Nowshahr prison, which was located on a road just behind the MOIS building where I had been interrogated. There were no wards in Nowshahr prison, but several large warehouses. I was in the big warehouse, No. 2. Half of it was filled with prisoners’ beds, and the other half was a space where religious ceremonies and meetings were held. We were the only ones there who had been imprisoned for our Christian faith; the other prisoners were there because of crimes such as theft, drug trafficking, inability to pay a dowry, cheques bouncing back, financial crimes, fraud, etc.

43. The day my four friends and I entered the prison, one of the guards asked what crime we had committed. An officer replied: “Never mind about their crime!” Then one day, the head of the prison called us and said: “It’s written that your crime is Christianity. Is Christianity a crime?” I replied: “Yes, apparently. That’s why we’re here.” He asked us where we were from, and when we answered that we were from Chalus, he turned to me, the youngest of the group, and asked: “Which area of Chalus are you from?” I replied: “I’m from Olvi Kola,” which was an area where many criminals and drug traffickers lived. “Are there Christians there too?” he asked in surprise. “Does even one good person come from there?” His father was a mullah, so he came from the nicest part of Chalus and was surprised to hear that a Christian could come from an area like Olvi Kola, which is full of thieves and smugglers. So I told him the story of how I had become a Christian and the subsequent changes in my life, and he was very impressed.

44. Two days after entering the prison, we were in the yard, taking some fresh air, when one of the prisoners said to us: “Come inside, we have a meeting.” So we entered the hall, and found a mullah sitting on a chair and the prisoners sitting around him, listening to him speak. The mullah asked me: “Have you just got here?” I replied: “Yes, I just arrived.” After talking a little about the Qur’an, he said to me: “Sir, as you have just arrived, come and perform tayammum [an Islamic purification ritual] here.” One of the prisoners was standing next to him, holding a notebook; everyone who did what the mullah wanted him to do would have a star-sticker added next to their name in this notebook, and accumulating these stickers gave the prisoners privileges like being able to go on leave, or enjoying some other privileges or rewards. By doing this, the officers wanted to make the prisoners interested in Islamic religious ceremonies. I replied to the mullah: “Forgive me, I have talked to the head of the prison to explain that I cannot engage in religious ceremonies.” The mullah, who seemed unhappy with my response, just shook his head and said: “OK!”

45. Although the other prisoners didn’t know our “crime”, they had become close to us and talked with us and wanted to be our friends. We had been told that we had no right to tell the other prisoners about our “crime”, but one day the head of the prison revealed it as he was making a speech, saying: “These Christian prisoners were brought here and added to those that need to be fed!” So after that day we were able to talk about Christianity with many prisoners. We empathised with them, gave them solutions to their problems, encouraged them, and prayed for them, and God used us during that time to help the other prisoners. There were about 100 prisoners in total.

Forced labour

46. One day, about one to two months after our “crime” became known, we Christian prisoners were told by an officer: “Pack your bags and whatever you have.” We asked why, and the officer replied: “The head of the prison has ordered us to take you somewhere else.” So we packed our things, wondering what they might have planned for us, and one of the officers took us in a car out of the prison to a piece of land, where we were put to work. One section of the land, which belonged to the prison, was a fenced-in field, where beans, aubergines, tomatoes, watermelons, and summer vegetables were planted. Another section had a large pond, where fish were raised; and in another section chickens, ducks and sheep were kept. That particular field had to be ploughed and irrigated, and the fish, chickens, ducks and sheep had to be fed and cared for. In addition, we had to take responsibility for cooking for ourselves.

47. There was also a half-finished building that we were told we had to finish. They gave us spades, pickaxes and wheelbarrows, and told us where to dig and what to do. They knew we were Christians, and prisoners of conscience. We were forced to work, and to work hard. We think the MOIS must have been informed that the other prisoners had become close to us and that we were talking to them freely about Christianity, so they implemented this plan for us and took us away from Warehouse No. 2 to this other place, and forced us to work very hard. In addition to us Christian prisoners, there were also about five other prisoners there, one of whom was a murderer and the others drug dealers or thieves. We would eat our breakfast there, then work like ordinary labourers. Then we would have our lunch and continue working, and then have dinner [before going to bed].

48. I was released from prison in June 2014, at the end of my six-month sentence. Freedom felt good, with a special sense of joy having been in captivity. I was happy that I had been punished because of my faith and not because of something like stealing, a bounced-back cheque or my addiction. I was thankful that I had been in prison for the sake of God, and that God had given me the strength to endure it. And, of course, my family, my daughter and my mother were especially glad to see me.

After release

49. We thought that after our release, the situation would return to normal and we would no longer be under the control of the MOIS. But unfortunately we found out the MOIS continued to closely monitor us. Whatever I did, and wherever I went, the spies of the MOIS chased me. From time to time, they called me using a private number and warned me that they were watching me. I tried not to use my mobile phone, and to limit my travels. I wasn’t in a good financial situation, so I borrowed a friend’s car to work as a taxi driver. I also stopped my Christian activities for a while.

50. But one day, at Nowruz 2015, I bumped into some of the other house-church members, and despite the persecution and threats, they were eager to begin our fellowship and teaching sessions again. However, they insisted that I continue to participate in the meetings secretly, for security reasons. That’s why we decided to continue our church services in secret. Several of the members had just converted to Christianity and came to attend the meetings from the nearby villages; some came from Chalus; and some lived in Nowshahr. I tried to visit all of them, travelling by taxi, and we made it a rule that no-one brought their mobile phones with them to the meetings.

Interrogation by the IRGC

51. It was in late November or early December 2015 when a person from the IRGC called me and said: “Come to the Basij Centre on 17 Shahrivar Street in Chalus at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.” I asked the reason for this summons, and he replied: “You have to come to provide an explanation and answer a few questions.”

52. So I went to this address at 9 o’clock the next day, and when I entered and explained about my summons, I was led into a room. Then a few minutes later I was directed into another room. A young man entered, and asked: “Are you Nima Rezaei, who was previously imprisoned for ‘propaganda against the regime’?” I confirmed my identity and added: “I served my prison sentence and was released.” He said: “And now are you carrying out activities against the regime again?” I protested: “Why do you ask that? I am a Christian. A Christian reads the Bible, prays, worships. Do you consider these things as activities against the regime?” He said: “We have evidence that you have resumed anti-regime activities and are carrying out political and religious activities. We have even heard that you spoke against the regime and are poisoning others against the regime.” I asked him to show me if he had any evidence for this accusation.

53, At that moment, another young man entered the room and asked: “Is this Nima?” As soon as the first interrogator confirmed this, he hit me. I raised my hand and took his, and then he shouted at me loudly and two other people entered the room and took him out.

54. The first young interrogator, who was still in the room, continued his speech, and said: “You are living here, enjoying the hospitality of the Islamic Republic, and yet you are revolting against our country? You are poisoning the public’s opinions against the regime! We have arrested a number of people, and they are going to testify against you! Clearly you didn’t learn during the six months you were in prison!” I protested: “Why should we be educated? I didn’t do anything wrong to have to be corrected. I am a Christian, and you condemned me for ‘acting against the security of the regime’ for being a Christian. I also served my imprisonment and came out again.”

55. The interrogator insisted: “Your thoughts are poisonous and political, and you are betraying the country!” My reaction was: “I don’t accept this at all! As a Christian, I should have the right to pray, worship and go to church, just as a Muslim goes to the mosque. This is our right as Christians. We don’t want much!”

56. To silence me, he warned: “You are criticising the government and inciting the people against the government! I have noted down what you have said, and I’ll use it in court!” I said to him: “Do whatever you want, but I’m telling you right now that I won’t accept any law that violates human rights.” He said: “Your thoughts are poisonous, and a court should decide what is going to happen with you, and make you understand how you are going to be dealt with!

57. Finally he told me: “Pick up the phone, and call someone to bring your bail.” I said: “Sir, I don’t have anything. One of my cousin’s friends kindly submitted the previous document for me, but now I’m here I’m not going anywhere. I don’t have any document, so do whatever you want with me. You don’t accept my words, nor do you speak to me justly or in accordance with the law. Your law is Islamic, which doesn’t give me, a Christian, the right to object. You don’t even allow me to hire a lawyer. As a citizen, I have the right to contest the charges against me.”

58. He put a piece of paper in front of me and said: “On this sheet is written all your details and our conversations. You have to sign this sheet and tell someone to bring you a document, and then go to court.” So eventually I had to sign that form, but I said: “I have neither any document, nor any [business] licence. I don’t have anyone to bail me out, so I’ll stay here until you decide what to do with me.” They kept me in that room until evening. Then, at about 6 o’clock, someone else entered the room. I guess he was a senior position there because everyone behaved deferentially towards him, and after whispering something to the young interrogator, he said to me: “We can give you a credit note. Sign this, and we’ll pledge the amount on your behalf.” Then they brought the credit note, and asked me to sign it and add my fingerprint, then said: “Whenever you are called, you are obliged to appear in court.” Then I was released.

Involuntary migration

59. When I was released, I told my wife what had happened and said that I didn’t know what evidence they had against me and who had been forced to come and testify against me. “I think they want to make a fake case against me and confront me with new false accusations,” I said. I didn’t know what was going to become of me this time. Exile? Long imprisonment? Execution?

60. After our release we had applied for and received our passports. Now some Christians, who had been forced to decide to emigrate from the country and were aware of my situation, called me and said: “Nima, get up and leave!” These friends had also told me to leave the country after my first arrest, but because a friend’s document had been pledged for my bail, I had felt obliged to go to prison to get the document released.

61. But this time, in December 2015, I left Iran with my wife and daughters and travelled to Turkey, and at the first opportunity we introduced ourselves as asylum-seekers to the UNHCR.

62. We have continued our Christian ministry in Turkey by having church meetings and also meeting in our homes. This period has also brought us opportunities, challenges, and threats. We found out that a person who was known in Iran as a spy of the MOIS, and who was the cause of the leak of information about our church meetings, had come to our small town in Turkey under a strange pretext, and had asked our friends about us, so we had to change our address. In fact we have had to move about four times since we arrived in Turkey due to similar threats.

63. In addition, it is painful for us to hear news of the identification and arrest of the Christians we knew and served in Iran. Some of them have been arrested several times, and in each of these arrests and interrogations our names and the role we played in their faith or spiritual growth are mentioned.