Witness Statements

Ali and Zahra

Ali and Zahra

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


Background

Ali

1. My name is Ali Kazemian, and I was born in Shiraz, in 1969, to a Muslim family. For a while, I followed the rules and ceremonies of Islam as much as I could, but I became addicted to drugs at a young age and eventually lost interest in Islam. I felt excruciating pain whenever I refrained from taking drugs; I tried many times to free myself from this addiction, but I couldn’t and I hated my condition.

Zahra

2. My name is Zahra Safar, and I was born in Tehran in 1977. My father was also born in Tehran but my mother was from Bushehr, and I grew up there. Ever since my childhood I have loved communicating with God, and I used to go to school to learn the Quran, while in the mosque I used to pray long prayers and recite prayer books. Meanwhile, our family members [because they were so pious] were only allowed to listen to music on Saturdays.

3. I was 16 years old when I married Ali. We now have two sons, named Mohammadhassan – known as Danial – and Mohammadhossein, known as Samuel, and a sweet baby daughter named Erielle. My husband and I chose to live in Shiraz after we married. Three months after we married, I found out that my husband was a drug addict. It was very difficult for me to accept and understand this because no-one in my family had ever used drugs. But I thought that if we had children, perhaps Ali would feel that he should give up drugs due to the responsibility of being a father. Two years after our marriage, our first son was born, but not only did my husband not quit his addiction; his consumption actually increased, and his condition worsened. All my family knew about his addiction. Just from looking at his face, it was obvious he was an addict.

Ali

4. I considered suicide many times, so that my wife and son wouldn’t suffer from the deplorable conditions of my addiction. I talked a lot with God, until finally one of my wife’s relatives came from Bushehr to Shiraz to visit us. He and his wife had come to believe in Jesus Christ two years before, and had been praying for us for a long time. This couple talked to us about Christianity, and gave us a Bible in Persian.

5. I had many Jewish and Baha’i friends, and I respected their opinions. But my wife, who was fanatical about Islam, had said to me: “Anyone who turns away from Islam and adopts another religion is a kafir [infidel], and impure, and even if they are killed, it is only a punishment for their sin, and if one day I hear the news of their execution, I wouldn’t be upset at all!” Zahra asked me to throw away the Bible, but I didn’t want to do that, so I left it inside the window of a university for others to read. After doing so, and walking some distance, I regretted it and went back to get it, but it had already been taken.

6. The family member of ours who had converted to Christianity came to our house several times and talked to us about Jesus Christ and Christianity, and we listened to his words but didn’t say anything. One day, we went to Bushehr to visit friends and relatives, and this couple invited us to their home. Zahra said they were “infidels” and “impure”, and was reluctant to go. But I said to Zahra: “They are human beings and everyone is free to have their own views and beliefs. So I’m going to go; come if you like.” Finally, Zahra and I, and our two boys, all went to their house. I remember the date. It was 21 March 2006.

Zahra

7. Because our relatives had become Christians, I considered their house impure, but on my husband’s insistence I accepted the invitation. Then the female relative and I took our children to the park, and she talked to me about Jesus Christ. I was upset with her, and asked her not to discuss Christianity with me. Meanwhile, my husband was at their house.

Ali

8. While Zahra and our female relative went to the park with the children, our male relative connected to an online church through Yahoo. I sat and listened. Then my relative announced to the church: “One of our relatives is our guest!” The leader of this church then immediately stopped what he was saying, and he and everyone else at the meeting warmly greeted and welcomed me. I was very surprised and impressed by the kindness and attention of these people, and especially because Iranian society looks at addicts with contempt, but they said to me at that moment: “Brother, we pray for your release from addiction!” After the session, my relative talked to me more about Jesus Christ and asked me if I would like him to pray for me. I accepted. Later on I told Zahra about what had happened and how my relative had prayed for my freedom from addiction. Zahra threatened me: “If you become a Christian, I’ll divorce you! Anyway, would it really be possible for Christ to heal you, given how many drugs you use!”

9. But in fact, after that prayer, and after returning from this trip, although I still had cigarettes and drugs at home, I suddenly had no desire to use them. Perhaps it is impossible from a scientific perspective for a person to suddenly lose interest in smoking and drugs after 25 years, but I was even granted a strange strength to bear my withdrawal symptoms.

Zahra

10. When we returned home from the park, my husband hid his conversion to Christianity from me and only mentioned the prayer that had been said to free him from his addiction, saying: “From now on, I don’t want to smoke cigarettes or take drugs.” At first, I didn’t believe that such a change was possible, but after a week or so I noticed that my husband had not only quit drugs completely, but that his behaviour and actions towards me and our sons had also changed. Instead of having fun with his friends, he spent time with us, and loved us. These changes made me watch the satellite programs of the Christian TV channel “Mohabat”.

11. At the same time, I also re-read the Quran and focused more on the parts written about Jesus Christ. I consulted with an old Muslim friend of mine and said: “I am at a crossroads. On the one hand, I don’t feel comfortable any more saying my [Muslim] prayers; but on the other, I am afraid to become a Christian.” “Listen to your heart,” she encouraged me. “You were created free, and you have the right to choose.” Finally, I called someone at Mohabat and prayed with that person, and became a Christian. It had taken almost four years from the time my Christian relatives had given us the Bible until we came to believe in Jesus Christ. I came to believe just a few weeks after Ali.

House-church activities

Ali

12. Our Christian relatives used to participate in one of the branches of the Assemblies of God Church in Bushehr, whose meetings were held in a private home and led by Rev Farhad Sabokrooh. I asked him to come to my house in Shiraz as well, to lead a service for my wife and me. Rev Farhad said: “The Ministry of Intelligence [MOIS] is monitoring my activities and travels. But I come to Shiraz from time to time to visit the members of the Assemblies of God Church there, so I can also meet secretly with you when I come.”

13. My wife and I had fallen in love with Christ, and became involved in church activities in different ways. I had talked to some of my colleagues about Christianity, and Zahra had also spoken to some of her friends. After some time, the number of members of our house-church reached about 90 people. We had weekly fellowship together, prayed, sang worship songs, and read the Bible. Since we didn’t have a printer at home, Zahra would listen to the songs, write down the words, and give them to the members to read from during worship.

14. Rev Farhad talked to us about the security issues facing house-churches, and emphasised that we shouldn’t gather together in large numbers. He also told us he could only visit us from time to time. For this reason, we contacted Mohabat TV and asked for their help in finding a pastor. Finally, two female church leaders were sent to our church, and they divided us into several small groups of five to six people.

15. For the next year, these leaders led Zahra and I through different courses to teach us about the principles of Christian beliefs. After that period, we officially began running a house-church together. In addition, I helped at another house-church where the members were all single men, and Zahra helped at another church with female members.

Arrest

Zahra

16. One of the key members of our church had evangelised to his friend about Christ, and brought him into our group, unaware that he was a spy of the Ministry of Intelligence. A few days later, we found out that two of our members, named Babak and Rahim, had been arrested. As a result, two of our other main leaders left Shiraz. We also temporarily suspended church meetings. One of our members, named Alireza, had a printing machine in his book-binding shop, so we would print out the Bible passages there and hand them out to the church members. After some more of our church members were arrested, we cleaned all the evidence from the shop, but the officers had already identified all the main leaders during Babak and Rahim’s detention.

17. When the summer of that year – 2009 – came, my brother persistently asked us to let him take our sons Danial and Samuel to their home in Bushehr for the holiday season. My husband and I didn’t want our sons to go to the homes of relatives or friends without us, but we finally agreed, and therefore they were not present during the events that took place that summer.

18. One day, Alireza’s wife, Pegah, was invited to attend the wedding of one of her relatives, and asked me to go to their home to do her make-up. It was around two o’clock in the afternoon, on 11 July 2009, when the doorbell of their home rang. From the intercom, a voice read out Alireza’s name and said: “We have brought you a letter from the post office.” But because it was beyond the working hours of the post office, Alireza looked out of the window and realised that they were agents of the Ministry of Intelligence. In the next few minutes, we quickly tried to hide the information regarding our church – such as names of church members, and the church teachings – which we had on a USB that we hid inside the washing powder.

19. Meanwhile, the agents – two female agents and around five male agents, who were very big – rang the doorbell of the downstairs neighbour, and when his son answered they pushed him aside and entered the yard. Then they climbed the ladder on the side of our house and entered our home via the balcony, by opening the window. It was a terrible scene; they searched the home brutally.

20. Pegah and Alireza were arrested. They also asked for my details, and seemed to want to let me go. But then one of the officers asked for my husband’s name, and when they discovered that I was married to one of the other people they wanted to arrest, they arrested all three of us. After a few hours of searching the home, at around five in the afternoon they put blindfolds made of a very rough material over our eyes – like the material made for making sacks – and took us to the detention centre in their cars, a Paykan, Peugeot, and a Samand, accompanied by several agents. They took Pegah and me in one car, and Alireza in another.

Ali

21. That day, when I returned home from work, Zahra wasn’t at home; I knew that she had gone to Alireza and Pegah’s home, so I called her phone. At first she didn’t answer, and then her phone gave the automated message that it had been turned off. Pegah and Alireza’s home was in our neighbourhood, so I went there and knocked on the door, but no-one answered. I spoke to a man who was standing nearby, changing his car-tyre, and he explained: “The people in that house got into a car with some people in plainclothes, and left.”

22. A few days before this incident, another of the members of our church had been arrested, and we had immediately removed some documents related to our church activities – such as photographs from our Christmas service, DVDs of Christian courses, and pamphlets with Christian teachings – from our home. Now, I called one of my friends and asked him to go to our home and temporarily hide the rest of the Christian documents we had there.

23. Shortly afterwards, someone called me from Zahra’s phone and said: “Mr Ali Kazemian? Your wife had an accident, but she is being well looked after in the accident department of Namazi Hospital. However, she can’t speak, so you must come to give us your consent.” I called a Christian friend of mine who worked at the hospital, and explained what they had told me. He checked the hospital computer, and said the call sounded suspicious because my wife had not been admitted, nor any incident registered in her name. I called my wife again, and asked the man who answered why he had her phone. He answered: “When I tell you to come to Namazi Hospital, you should do so.” For this reason, I had no doubt that the phone call had been made by the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence.

24. With my younger brother, who had a motorcycle, we went to Namazi Square [where Namazi Hospital is located]. I got off the motorcycle just before the square, and asked my brother to follow behind to see where I was taken. Then they called me again, asked me what clothes I was wearing, and told me to go to a particular place. And as soon as I got there, many agents surrounded me.

25. The arresting agents tied my hands behind my back, covered my face with a sack-like cloth, and put me in a car. One of the agents asked my name, and level of literacy, and told his superior over the phone: “We have identified the subject and now we are coming.”

Zahra

26. When my husband arrived at the place they had told him to meet them, they asked me to confirm that this was my husband. After I had done so, the officers arrested him, handcuffed him, and put him in the car. In addition to Ali, another of our leaders, named Adel, was also arrested that evening.

Ali

27. They had brought Zahra with them to identify me, and she held my hand. But after around 10 or 20 minutes, the car stopped and Zahra was taken out. 

28. Then we drove a little further. My brother had followed behind, and saw that they took me to a building in the Dar al-Quran area of the city, which belongs to the Basij [paramilitary section of the Revolutionary Guard Corps], and is next to Simon the Zealot Church. Then they closed the gate and took me into the yard, and tied me to a tree. They searched me, and took off my ring and necklace – which both had crosses on them – as well as my belt and shoelaces.

Zahra

29. The agents took me to our home that night and, after searching the home, they confiscated and took away our identification documents, such as our passports and birth certificates, and personal items such as our computer, camera, Christian and non-Christian books, and pamphlets.

Zahra’s detention

30. I was then taken to a dark cell, which had no lights at all, in the basement of the Revolutionary Guard Corps detention centre. There was an old carpet on the floor, which I slept on at night, without any blanket or pillow.

31. I had to knock on the cell door to go to the bathroom, and when I did so they blindfolded me and pushed me into the corridor, saying nasty things to me as they led me there. Due to the stress and pressure of being in detention, my period was brought on. I asked the officers for sanitary towels, but they didn’t bring them for two days! It was torturous.

32. The first food they gave me had gone off. The colour of the stew and rice had clearly changed, so I didn’t eat at all during my time in detention. In addition to the fact that the food was off, I didn’t feel like eating. It was a very difficult time; I had no contact at all with my husband or children, so no idea where they were or how they were doing.

33. I was blindfolded during every interrogation, and they never interrogated me in the daytime; only at night, when a siren would sound and they would take me for interrogation. My interrogators asked me so many questions, and I had to speak for so long that my mouth became dry. Sometimes, I was also taken to the chief interrogator of the detention centre, named Mr Rezaei.

34. One night, Mr Rezaei asked me: “If you weren’t facing these accusations today, I wasn’t an interrogator, and none of these events had happened, and you were taken back to the first day of your faith in Christ, would you still be willing to become a Christian?” I answered: “Yes, I would still choose Christ.” He became very angry and said: “You don’t deserve to be treated well!” and “Sit properly on the chair!” I was blindfolded so it was difficult to know how I looked, but I tried to sit up straighter and to readjust my clothes to ensure I wasn’t showing any cleavage, as my coat had no buttons, but again he yelled: “Sit properly on the chair!” and then he threw an object at me that hit me on the head. He also slapped my face a few times, shouted obscenities at me, and then said to the officer: “Take her back to the cell!”

35. One day I told another interrogator, named Mr Shirazi: “I have a question for you.” He laughed and said: “We must ask you questions; not you us!” But I still asked him: “Why did you bring me to this place? What have I done wrong? What sin have I committed? As a Christian, I respect the laws of my country, adhere to what is asked of me as a citizen; I respect nature; I don’t even throw rubbish on the ground! I pray every night for the leader of Iran, Mr Khamenei; I have helped many addicts and prostitutes to be freed from this way of living. Did you arrest me because of these good deeds?” Mr Shirazi didn’t respond. He simply told the officer: “Take her back to her cell.”

36. Most of my interrogators’ questions were about these topics: “Have you been baptised? Did you travel abroad to participate in Christian conferences? How many people are you responsible for? Which leaders or Christian organisations are you in contact with? Did you get paid for your activities?” etc. But actually it had not been easy for us, with two sons, to participate in Christian conferences abroad. Therefore, for our own church gatherings or special occasions, we would just gather with other church members in a garden belonging to one of the members.

37. During my detention, they mocked me, cursed me, threatened me, and said things like: “You are a bunch of bastard preachers! We’ll keep you here until your hair is the same colour as your teeth! We’ll kill your husband; you’ll be left without any support, and your children will be homeless. You’ll spend your whole life here; not even God can help you! We know all about you now; no-one can help you! You are completely alone! If you don’t confess and answer our questions, we’ll tell our colleague here to torture you!” Early every morning an officer would walk along the corridors shouting: “Long live Islam!” And they promised my husband that if he repented and returned to Islam, they’d support him when he was taken to court.

38. About a week later, six of us who had been arrested [also Alireza, Babak and Rahim, and Adel] were taken to the Revolutionary Court. They took me there by making me lie down on the back seat of one car, while they put my husband and another of the arrested Christians in the boot of another car and took them to the court that way. We entered the court through the back door, and after office hours. 

39. They turned all of us to face the wall and didn’t let us talk to each other. When I saw my husband, I went towards him, but one of the officers stopped me. I asked him to let me see my husband, and hold his hand, and the officer was kind enough to let us, and later even put me and my husband in the same car on our way back. We held each other’s hands, and cried in silence.

40. After a week, my husband’s family pursued my case, and I was temporarily released on bail of 50 million tomans [approx. $50,000], submitted in the form of my mother-in-law’s house deed.

Ali’s detention in Dar al-Quran

Ali

41. When we entered, they took me, blindfolded, down the stairs. I think it was the basement. Then they put me in a dark solitary cell, measuring 1.20×1.20m, and I was allowed to remove my blindfold.

42. After two hours of interrogation in a room close to my cell, they blindfolded me again and took me to the upper floors of the building, where they continued to interrogate me. The interrogator asked the same thing several times: “Are you a Christian? Are you ready to return to Islam?” I said: “Yes, I am a Christian, and I am not ready to return to Islam in any way.” The interrogator swore at me, using filthy language. Then another officer punched and kicked me.

43. The interrogator then read out 100 names and asked me to confess that I knew these people, and to tell him who they were. Although I knew many of their names, I said that I didn’t.

44. During one interrogation, which took place at around midnight, the interrogator said: “Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is in you?” I said: “Yes, I believe that God made the Holy Spirit dwell in me after I came to believe.” The interrogators discovered that I had a metal implant in my left leg from an historic break. For this reason, one of the agents kicked my left leg several times. Then they put me on a chair, tied my hands together, and the interrogator said: “You are now in an electric chair; we want you to show the power of the Holy Spirit that you claim resides in you! Are you ready to return from your faith now?” I replied: “I won’t turn away from what I believe. I was an addict for 25 years, and Jesus Christ set me free.” He said, angrily: “Go smoke drugs again! It’s better for you to smoke drugs than to be a Christian!” Then they violently punched me several times.

45. In addition to this physical torture, they inflicted a lot of mental and emotional torture on me, and it was easier for me to endure the physical torture than the mental. They threatened me that: “We’ll harm your wife and children!” The interrogator said: “We’ll bring your wife to the interrogation room and strip her naked in front of everyone, to see if you can really resist and stay quiet!”

46. They lied: “Your wife has confessed that ‘Ali forced me to become a Christian’. We are going to ensure your marriage is dissolved!” I didn’t want my wife to be harmed, so I said: “Yes, my wife is right, I encouraged her to become a Christian.” I endured a lot of additional emotional pressure throughout my time in prison because of my concern for Zahra’s wellbeing, because I didn’t know she had been released earlier than me until she came to visit me.

47. They gave me one meal every day. It was very hot, being the middle of the summer, but if I wanted water to drink I had to knock on the cell door several times, until the soldier who guarded me felt bad for me and brought me a glass of water. During the 18 days of my detention in Dar al-Quran, I wasn’t allowed to take a shower. In the heat of the summer, and that hot basement, I knew I smelled very bad because of all my sweat.

48. All my interrogations were at night, and I was blindfolded throughout. Each interrogation lasted about three to four hours. For the first four days, I was interrogated every night. Then I wasn’t interrogated for four to five nights, but, after that, every night I was interrogated twice, so that one person would interrogate me; then they would take me to my cell, I would sleep, and half an hour later they would open the door and, for the second time, I would be interrogated by a different person. About six days passed like this.

49. On the 18th day of my detention, Babak, Alireza, Adel and I were taken to a room which they had prepared for us to be filmed in. In that room, which was very clean, there was a table with a vase on it, and a cameraman and two soldiers standing next to it. The interrogator said: “Don’t look around. Look at the camera and read and repeat what is on the sheet of paper on the table.”

50. The first words on the sheet said: “We men in the house-church shared our wives with the other men – we were all in relationships with each other – and we were deceived into believing what we did. Later, we found out that the house-church was a brothel.” Upset, I said: “There is no way I am going to tell these lies!” The interrogator severely beat me, and also the rest of the Christians who refused to repeat these false statements, but they failed to get a fake interview from any one of us.

Taken to court

51. According to the law, the accused must be officially charged within the first 24 hours of arrest, but I wasn’t taken to court for three days, when I was brought before a prosecutor named Mr Hosseini. He talked to me for about an hour, then signed a piece of paper and said: “You can take him back to the detention centre and continue to interrogate him.”

52. They took me to Mr Hosseini on another occasion during my detention, and he talked to me for about half an hour, and said: “In these papers, there are confessions that you made during the interrogations. In one of them, you acknowledge that you are not worthy to take care of your sons and that we can hand them over to state care. Your fingerprints are on all of these papers.”

53. I told the prosecutor that I didn’t make any such confession, and told him that one day the interrogator came to my cell and, while I was blindfolded, put my fingers on an ink pad and then the paper. I had asked the interrogator: “Why are you forcing me to fingerprint things without letting me read them first?” But the interrogator had sworn at me, and insultingly said: “It’s none of your business!” I said to the prosecutor: “Look at the fingerprints on these sheets! You are the prosecutor of this country! Do you think that if I wanted to put my fingerprints on these pages, freely and with my eyes open, I would have done so in such a scattered and irregular way?” But, unfortunately, the prosecutor, who is a puppet of the Ministry of Intelligence, not only didn’t accept what I said, but also insulted and swore at me.

54. He asked me: “What is the name of your pastor?” I said: “Jesus Christ.” “All of you say the same thing,” he said. Then he told the soldier: “I’ll extend his detention and you can take him back for more interrogation.” 

55. And both times we were taken to the court, they took us in through the back door of the building. And when they took us there, they made me and one of the other Christians travel in the boot of the car. The weather was extremely hot, so when we came out, not only were our clothes wet from sweat, but even the floor of the boot had become wet.

Shiraz central detention centre

56. After 18 days, we were transferred to the central detention centre and I was finally able to contact my family for the first time since my arrest, and tell them where I was. They took our fingerprints, and then we were taken to a small room, which held 60 people on several multi-layered bunk-beds, which were spaced very close together.

57. One of the other Christian prisoners called home to ask for our families to deposit an amount onto our prisoner cards so we could buy clothes from the prison shop. There was a bathroom in our room, but only one, so we all had to take turns. I had worn the same clothes for 18 days and hadn’t had a shower, so my clothes literally stuck to me. I had to stand under the shower for several minutes until they would come off, and I could finally take off these old clothes and change into clean ones.

58. Each section of the prison had a different staff member, and the mullah who was responsible for our section, when he realised that we are Christians and didn’t participate in the prayers, summoned everyone to the prison mosque for a speech. In his speech, he insulted Christ and Christianity, and called Christians “infidels” and “impure”. One of the prisoners, who was from the Lor ethnic group, stood up and said: “You call yourself a cleric? Why do you insult a prophet of God [Jesus]? Why do you insult Christians? Maybe there is a Christian prisoner among us and he may become upset. What right do you have to say these things? There is no difference between Islam and Christianity.” After that, the mullah stopped his insults.

59. Anyone who had a private complainant was kept in the central detention centre until their family got the consent of the complainant for them to be released. But if the family failed to get this consent, they would transfer the prisoner to Adel Abad Prison, which was next to the central detention centre. When our families found out that we were in the central detention centre, they went to the court to pursue our case. In the court, they were told: “You can get a lawyer.” But in fact, the lawyer couldn’t do anything to secure our release on bail.

Adel Abad Prison

60. After a week in the central detention centre, we were transferred to the general ward of the prison. When I was arrested, I weighed 95 kilos, and now when they recorded my weight in prison, I was 65 kilos!

61. They took us to the ward of Adel Abad Prison where they hold prisoners who have committed political or ideological crimes. The head of the prison, Mr Tehrani, asked what crime I had committed, and I said: “I am a Christian”. He said: “If you are a Christian, you don’t belong in prison; you should be in church right now.” But when he found out that we had been born Muslims and now believed in Jesus Christ, he sent us each to different areas of Ward 10, which is the ward where prisoners were held before they were executed for drug-trafficking or other major crimes. Every Wednesday, at half past five in the morning, a prisoner was executed in the prison yard. My bed faced the yard, so unfortunately I witnessed these painful scenes.

62. Our accusations were: “Action against the internal security of the country” and “Propaganda activity against the holy regime of the Islamic Republic … through promoting and spreading Christianity and forming house-churches”. My lawyer, Mr Ali Hosseininasab, came to the prison to get my signature that I agreed for him to represent me. Looking at my accusations, he asked me: “How many guns did they take from you [when they arrested you]?” I said: “They didn’t take any weapon from me!” And I explained my story to him. Mr Hosseininaseb assured me: “With these activities, you can’t be accused of ‘acting against national security’.”

Revolutionary Court hearing

63. After about two and a half months in prison, they finally took us to the first branch of the Shiraz Islamic Revolutionary Court, on 1 October 2009. In the court, I saw my mother looking for me, and I asked a soldier to take me to her so I could greet her. But my mother fainted when she saw me, because I had lost so much weight and she couldn’t believe that my face, hair-colour and weight could have changed so much.

64. Mr Sobhani-Nia was the judge of our case and head of the Revolutionary Court. The representative of the Ministry of Intelligence Service and deputy prosecutor also attended the court session, as the claimants. Our lawyer tried to defend us against the charges, by referring to dozens of legal provisions, but the judge was persistent that although he could acquit us of the charge of “acting against national security”, the charge of “propaganda against the regime” still stood. We felt that it was his intention to make us feel as though we owed him and should feel that he had had mercy on us and given us a discount. Our lawyer objected that the charge of “propaganda against the regime” didn’t fit, but the judge disrespectfully told him to “sit down!” and didn’t accept his words.

65. After the court hearing, our bail amount was communicated to our families, and a week later I was released from Adel Abad Prison on bail of 50 million tomans, submitted for me by the mother of one of my friends.

66. I had just two face-to-face meetings and one phone call with my wife while I was in Adel Abad Prison, and endured a lot of intense psychological pressure. Before my arrest, I had never left my wife and children alone at night. I wanted to hug them; I missed them. Even so, I had asked my wife not to bring our children to the unhealthy environment of the prison for what would only be face-to-face visits, when they could hear my voice only over a two-way receiver. My wife and mother visited me together on the two face-to-face visits, but both times my mother felt sick when she saw how I looked.

Verdict

67. About a month after our release, we were summoned to sign that we had received our verdict, and the officials at the court told us: “The original verdict will be sent to your lawyer.” After our lawyer got access to the verdict, we found out that the judge, as he had told us, had acquitted us of the charge of “acting against national security”, after concluding that our activities hadn’t been “a physical act that endangered internal or external security”. But on the charge of “propaganda against the regime”, under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, he sentenced us to one year in prison, suspended for five years.

68. We had 20 days to appeal the verdict, but we and our lawyer weren’t allowed to attend the appeal hearing. Our lawyer just received a phone call from the appeal court a little while later, saying: “Your client’s appeal was rejected.”

Conditions after release and consequences of detention

Zahra

69. After my release, I went to my mother-in-law’s house, but I felt as though everyone there wanted to beat me. Each member of my husband’s family said things like: “No-one in our family has ever been taken to the police station, let alone prison!” Or: “You are a source of shame and dishonour for our family!”

70. I hadn’t showered during my week of detention and didn’t feel well because of my monthly period, so I asked them to let me go to my home and take a shower, and said they could then do whatever they wanted with me. So they all came with me back to our home, and as soon as I came out of the bathroom, they began again with their interrogations, blame, teasing and harsh words. They kept me awake until almost four in the morning, and threatened that: “If you don’t give up your Christian faith, we’ll make sure you and your husband divorce, and take your sons from you!” It felt as though I’d been thrown from one hot furnace to another, even hotter one.

71. My sons came back from Bushehr, and it was also a very difficult time for them. Samuel, who was nearly seven years old, would go under the blanket with his father’s photo and cry because he missed him.

72. Meanwhile, Danial’s school, which was a good school, suddenly wouldn’t allow him to continue his studies, without giving any explanation or reason. So we had to enrol him in a school that was much farther away and didn’t offer such a good level of education. The public school I wanted to enrol Samuel in also wouldn’t accept him, so I pawned an old gold Bahar Azadi coin that I had at home, so I could afford to enrol Samuel in a private school.

73. But at the same time we didn’t even have enough money for food, and had to endure painful insults from my husband’s family whenever we went for meals at their house.

74. I remember Danial once saying to me: “Mum, one day these hard days will end, and we’ll be rescued from them.” Samuel also tried to console me in other ways. I had been mentally broken and crushed in the detention centre, but my children gave me the motivation to stand up and fight, and to go on living. I felt safe in the presence of God and my children. We no longer had a Bible [because it had been confiscated], and we prayed in secret [out of sight of Ali’s family].

75. After a while, Danial spoke to my husband’s family and told them: “From now on, don’t talk to us about our beliefs, and don’t put pressure on my mother!” And after this, the pressure of my husband’s family decreased.

76. While my husband was in prison, my mother and sister came to visit us from Bushehr because of our uncertain and difficult situation. But with the reopening of schools in September, my young, 27-year-old sister, who had two children, returned to Bushehr and, on the way, she crashed into another car and died. It was a great shock to me, and extremely painful. In the years since, I have carried guilt in my heart that my sister came to Shiraz because of me, and the accident happened on the way back, and that as a result she died and her children grew up without a mother.

77. About nine months later, we were sent a letter from the court, which said: “You can go to Dar al-Quran and get back your confiscated items.” They had taken a van full of items from our home, but they returned only four phones, a camera, our identification documents, some books and notebooks, and didn’t return the rest, including our computer. According to their own words, many of our belongings were “lost”.

78. When my husband was taken from Adel Abad Prison to the Revolutionary Court, and I saw him, I couldn’t hold back my tears. Ali was very thin. My mother-in-law kissed the judge’s shoes, in tears, and begged him: “Let my child go free!” The judge said: “Go and post a bail of 50 million tomans, and we can release him.” In fact, the bail for all of us was set at this same amount.

79. But even after Ali’s release, we were constantly monitored by the forces of the Ministry of Intelligence Service. One agent stood guard near our home, and another followed us wherever we went. We didn’t visit other church members because we didn’t want to cause trouble for them. At the same time, the other Christian leaders distanced themselves from us and cut off all communication. When we visited two members of our house-church, they told us clearly: “Our leaders have told us to cut off relations with you, and we want to obey. Please leave us.”

80. From time to time, we met up with the others who had been arrested with us. But after a while, our meetings became less frequent – both because we didn’t want our relationship with them to endanger them, and also because we were strictly controlled by my husband’s family, and they forbade us from having these meetings. But after some time, secretly and quietly, we restarted our Christian activities, while following the necessary safety precautions.

Ali

81. After my wife’s release, the headmasters of our boys’ schools didn’t allow them to study there, and my family also put a lot of pressure on my wife and children. My wife and children didn’t even have food to eat. Unfortunately, our Christian friends didn’t contact my family either. They told us: “Because of what has happened to you, we can’t communicate with you.” The resulting isolation and disconnection from other Christian believers, and not participating in church meetings, broke us, and made me feel very low.

82. For 10 years, I had worked in the construction and welding department of Maskan Bank – I was a crane driver – but one day the manager of the bank said to me: “Ali, you have been our best worker in this department, I don’t like to fire you, but unfortunately they [the MOIS] informed us that we shouldn’t allow you to continue working.” They didn’t even pay me any redundancy pay for working in the bank for 10 years. The bank manager fired me on the orders of the MOIS, and the MOIS wouldn’t even allow me to acquire my own business licence.

83. I looked everywhere for a job where I could make a living, but wherever I worked, after one or two days the employer would apologise to me and say: “We have been threatened and told not to allow you to work.” It always made me happy whenever I found a new job, but then after just a few days the employer would have to fire me due to the pressure of the MOIS. As a result, I was unable to meet our family’s daily needs, and this made me sad. We didn’t even have the money to afford insurance for any medical treatment we might need.

84. The harassment of the security officers was endless. They called me from the intelligence office and said: “Come to such and such an address today to sign something.” But then I would go to that place and they would call again and say: “There is no need for you to come now; go home, and come back again tomorrow”. They repeated this trick many times. Sometimes they even called me twice a week; they controlled my life.

Zahra

85. Almost two years after the verdict was issued and our case was closed, a summons was sent to my husband’s mother, who had submitted the deed of her house for my bail, and in the letter it was written that: “Mrs Zahra Safar must appear at the Revolutionary Court”. I consulted a lawyer and found out that if I didn’t go to the court, the deed of my mother-in-law’s house would be confiscated. None of my husband’s family members agreed to accompany me to the court, so my husband and I had to go there on our own. Then, at the Revolutionary Court, I was told: “You must go to the women’s prison.”

86. So we went to Pirbano Prison, which is in a remote location on the outskirts of Shiraz. Ali had to wait outside, while I went inside to have my mugshot and fingerprints taken and a criminal-record file created. These were very difficult moments, full of anxiety.

87. Inside the prison, a mullah spoke to me and said: “My daughter, why did you become a Christian? Repent and return to Islam.” I explained my reasons to him, and this made him very angry.

88. When I was leaving, in front of the prison door an officer said to me: “You are a respectable lady. I know that the intelligence service wants you to leave Iran; they won’t let you have a comfortable life here. In my opinion, it would be better for you and your family if you left this country.”

Ali

89. They gave Zahra a letter, and we got into a taxi to take it back to the Revolutionary Court, as they had asked. But before we went there, I opened the letter and took a copy of it. On our return to the Revolutionary Court, we reported the events of that day to our lawyer, and told him what the officer had said to Zahra. The lawyer said: “The officer is right. Right now they are calling you twice a week from the Ministry of Intelligence; they don’t allow you to work, and your children aren’t allowed to study. They may also seize your bail. I think it would be better for you if you left.” We prayed and asked God to show us his will: whether to stay in Iran, or claim asylum in Turkey.

Leaving Iran

Zahra

90. Because of the government’s constant harassment, in the spring of 2011 we sold our furniture – we didn’t own a house or car – and took what little money we had with us to Turkey, where we applied for asylum. Danial was 16 years old and Samuel six when we left Iran, and after that my sons struggled to continue their studies, and have been in an uncertain situation.

Ali

91. I still feel within me the impact of the torture, threats, humiliation and loss of work that I experienced. Sometimes, even though I’ll be sitting next to my family, it will be as though I’m not there, and I will stare at a fixed point in the distance for some time. My wife also exhibits this same kind of behaviour.

92. One of the enduring effects of what I suffered is an ongoing anxiety and fear. When I leave home, I will call home at least 10 times and ask my family how they are doing: “Where are you? Did you eat? Do you need me to buy something?” etc. So our suffering continues.