Witness Statements

Vahid Hakani

Vahid Hakani

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


1. My name is Vahid Hakani. I was born in 1982, in Shiraz, into a Muslim family. My grandmother always prayed and adhered to Islamic rules. My religious role models during my childhood were my family members. Following their example, I prayed too, and adhered to the religion of Islam.

2. In school, participation in collective prayers was mandatory, but I used to pray with desire because I was taught from my childhood that by praying and following Islamic rules, I could become a good person, get closer to God, and enter heaven.

3. I was 13 years old when my mother died, and before my mother’s death I had only seen my father twice, because he’d left us. After the death of my mother, my living conditions were difficult and exhausting; I was very lonely, and I considered God to be the cause of my unfortunate situation.

4. Over time, I felt that none of my religious practices were beneficial for me, and gradually I became disheartened with God. I became stubborn towards God and deliberately did bad things to get revenge on Him. This carried on for five years, until I reached a dead end and felt defeated and hopeless.

5. Then, in the autumn of 2006, when I was 24 years old, I met with one of our distant relatives, who told me he had recently become a Christian. Hearing this was something fresh to me, and I was very surprised. We had been taught in our family and at school that Islam is the last and most perfect religion. I had heard several news stories about how some people from other religions had converted to Islam, but I had never heard of a Muslim becoming a Christian.

6. My relative and I went to visit another Christian friend of his. This person hadn’t been a Christian for very long, but he still passed on everything he had learned to me, and I suddenly felt like I had known Jesus Christ for years. What I heard from my relative and his friend about Jesus made me decide to follow Him. At that moment, the light of hope shone in my heart, and I felt a strange peace that has remained in my heart until today.


7. I was very eager to learn about the Bible and Christian teachings, and to have fellowship with other Christians. The morning after I became a Christian, I went to my relative’s friend’s workplace, which was an agricultural machinery repair shop, and everyone in his workplace had recently become a Christian.

8. Unfortunately, the sale of the Bible is prohibited in Iran, but that Christian group gave me a Bible that belonged to them. I eagerly read it, repeatedly, carefully and deeply, and memorised many verses. For the next two or three months, we had [house-]church meetings together. We had several cassette tapes of worship songs that we used for worship, and we used to sing and pray together. But we were all beginners in the Christian faith, and no-one could teach us more about Christian teachings.

9. I went to many bookstores to buy a Bible of my own, but some of them didn’t even know what a Bible was. But after persisting and asking around a lot, I came across a place where street-sellers were selling banned books, and I managed to buy a Bible from one of them. From that day on, if I heard that anyone was looking for a Bible, I would give them the address of that place. Years later, when we were able to get some Bibles from the official churches, I gave many copies to those street-sellers for free, and asked them to sell them cheaply to anyone who was looking for Bibles.

10. My life had changed and I was enjoying being a Christian more and more every day. It seemed to me that Christianity was reasonable and acceptable in every sense, and that it would be easy for anyone to accept it. But it didn’t work out that way. When I talked about Christianity to my mother’s family, who were all fanatical about Islam, they cut off contact with me, and for about three years they rejected me completely.

11. One of my friends, in whose laundry shop I used to work, considered me an infidel and impure after he found out that I had become a Christian. But after some time, seeing the positive changes in me, his view changed and he helped me to rent a shop. We still have a deep friendship today, and I consider him to be like my big brother.

12. For various reasons, I decided to change my last name on my birth certificate, and as I filled out the form I wrote “Christianity” in the religion section. But although the officials of the civil registry office didn’t have a problem with me changing my last name, they said: “You were born a Muslim and don’t have the right to change this.” So they rejected my request.

13. There are many churches in Iran, some of which are considered historical monuments. This means that for many years many people entered these churches and worshipped God. But the government of the Islamic Republic doesn’t allow Persian-speakers to become members and participate in the meetings in the church buildings. They have ordered and threatened the leaders of the churches that they mustn’t allow Christian converts to enter. I had tried several times to enter the church building in Shiraz – Simon the Zealot Church – and one of my friends was a member. Eventually, through him, one time I managed to get in.

14. But church buildings are controlled by the government, and the Shiraz church building is between the offices of the Ministry of Intelligence and the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. A camera has been installed in that alley, and all entrances and exits to the church are under the authorities’ control. And, aside from the camera, we suspected that the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence were active in the area, and so the identity of all the people who came to the church was quickly recognised.

15. For all these reasons, Persian-speakers aren’t able to enter the church and participate in the services. The sermons also aren’t in the Persian language. So, Persian-speaking Christian converts are forced to gather secretly in their homes, and pray and have Christian fellowship with other Christians in house-churches.

16. I remember that one day in 2006, after I had recently become a Christian, I wanted to travel to Orumiyeh, but first I went to Tehran. And I remember looking for a church building there for about five hours. I went to two churches, named St Mary’s [an Armenian church] and St Paul’s [an Anglican church], but I wasn’t allowed to enter either church because I was a Persian-speaker. After a lot of asking around, I found the Central Assemblies of God Church, but they also asked me many questions – including about why I had come. Finally, a family who were members of the church told the guard who wasn’t letting me in, “He is with us”, and finally that person let me in. So it wasn’t at all easy to enter church buildings or participate in worship services.

17. As time went on, I talked to many people about Christianity, and the number of our [house-]church members gradually increased. I did whatever I could to help my house-church. Then, after a few years, we met some people who had been Christians for longer, and they used to come to Shiraz from Tehran to teach us about Christianity.

18. As the number of our members and house-churches grew, we knew we ran the risk of one day being arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence. Sometimes, we felt that we were being followed, or that our phones were being tapped, and later on we found out that our suspicions had been correct.

19. I used to think about how I would feel if I was ever arrested, and verses from the Bible would calm me down. For example, when I felt weak and powerless, I said to God: “Please don’t let them come for me now, when I’m weak. Don’t let them arrest me in this state, so I won’t deny you!” But some days, when I felt strong, I said to myself: “If they arrest me now, I’ll stand with strength and courage, and defend my position and beliefs!” Anyway, we were ready for our arrest, and prayed for ourselves.


20. I was twice threatened and interrogated by the Ministry of Intelligence in 2008. Then, on Wednesday 8 February 2012, I gathered with about 25 members of our house-church at one of the other members’ homes. We were worshipping, when the doorbell rang. We assumed that another member of the church had arrived late, so we opened the door without asking who it was. But then at least 15 agents of the Ministry of Intelligence immediately entered the home. They separated the leaders from the other members, and arrested me and seven others [Mojtaba Hosseini, Koroush Partovi, Homayoun Shekoohi and his wife Fariba and son Nima, and two others whose names have not been made public], then each of us was taken separately to our homes, which they searched. The agents forced the rest of the attendees to fill out forms with their personal details. Later, they were called and summoned for questioning. They were threatened during these interrogations, and made to commit to not participate in any other church meetings, or have any more contact with each other.

21. I was handcuffed and taken to my home, where they put me on the sofa. One of the agents stayed with me, and the other two agents searched my home in a professional way. They took everything related to Christianity, such as Bibles, Christian books and CDs, and even the picture of Christ that was on the wall. They also took non-Christian books and magazines, and confiscated them, along with my satellite dish and receiver, and put them in their van, which was soon packed full of confiscated items from my home. Then they took me with them to my shop, and took everything there that they thought was related to Christianity. They were going to take my guitar too, but I said: “It’s just a guitar! Why should that be confiscated?” Finally, they agreed not to take the guitar. When I was released from prison to undergo surgery, they gave me back some of my stuff, but only things they didn’t think were important, like my birth certificate, passport, and some books.

Ministry of Intelligence detention centre

22. I had a strange feeling when they blindfolded me; I didn’t know where they were taking me, or who was holding my hand. Everything was black, and dark. It was the first time I’d ever had to go anywhere while wearing a blindfold, and it was one of the hardest parts of my initial detention, and caused me to experience a lot of negative thoughts. I was held for 33 days in the “Pelak-e 100” detention centre of the Ministry of Intelligence. My cell was really a solitary-confinement cell, but because of the high number of detainees, there were always a few other people in it.

23. The day after our arrest, we were informed about our charges. I think the person who informed us was a judge responsible for the enforcement of sentences, called Mrs Zare. Our charges were: “forming illegal organisations”, “disrupting national security”, “propaganda against the regime”, and “apostasy”. When our charges were read out, I didn’t understand what they meant.

24. I said to Mrs Zare: “I didn’t convert from Islam to Christianity.” Mrs Zare said: “Your parents were Muslim, so you were born a Muslim.” I said: “How do you know? I haven’t seen my father since I was one year old!” She said: “What about your mother?” I said: “If a person is a Muslim, they should pray, fast, pay khums and zakat [Islamic tithes]. My mother didn’t do any of these things, though she was a good woman.” After this, Mrs Zare realised that I had enough knowledge to respond to her questions, and the apostasy charge was eventually removed from our accusations.


25. My interrogations began on the very first night of my detention, but though the interrogator asked me questions, I refused to answer. Instead, I asked him several times about what had happened to one of the teenage girls in our group, Homayoun’s daughter Helma, whom I loved like my younger sister. I think she was 12 years old at that time. As Helma’s father, mother and brother were also among those who had been arrested, I was worried about her. At first, the interrogator didn’t answer me, but I continued to ask about her, so finally he had to give an answer, and told me that she was with her aunt.

26. On the day of my arrest, there had also been a big football match involving my team, Esteghlal FC, and I asked the interrogator what the result had been. The interrogator got very upset, and kicked my chair several times, and said: “Are you making fun of me?”

27. He interrogated me for most of the next two days, but eventually he realised that no matter what he did to me, I wouldn’t give him any information about myself or the other members of the church. One of my cellmates had said to me: “They’ll do something to you to make you miss their interrogations!” Well, for about the next 12 days I wasn’t taken for any interrogation, and didn’t have any information about the wellbeing of my fellow Christian detainees. After this, I truly couldn’t wait for my next interrogation, and then I remembered the words of that prisoner. 

28. Every three to four days, I was allowed to go outside for around 20 minutes to get some fresh air, and I prayed that I would see my friends, or hear their voices, so I might know they were OK. I didn’t pray for myself; my only concern was the condition of my Christian friends – both those who had been arrested, and the other members of our house-church who hadn’t been at that meeting but might also be arrested. Later, when I saw them again, I realised that they had also been worried about my condition and had been praying for me.

29. I was especially worried about the female members of our church. One of them had been arrested before, and her interrogator had threatened to rape her if he arrested her again, and I feared it wasn’t only a threat. Many protesters, both men and women, who had been arrested in [the protests of] 2009 were raped in prison.

30. It seemed that the women’s section of the prison was connected to the end of the corridor where I was detained; I recognised Fariba’s voice, and sometimes I heard her coughing and my heart was full of pain. I always used to say a certain phrase, “Be good”, and so I would shout this by the wall and hope that she would hear and know that I was praying for her. After her release, Fariba told us that she coughed on purpose, so we could hear her voice. I felt especially bad that two female members of our church were now in prison. Also, two of those who had been arrested were middle-aged, and like parents to the other members of the church, and loved and supported us. I was also very worried and sad about them, and prayed for them.

31. In those days, I also struggled with feelings of guilt and condemnation, because I remembered encouraging the other church members to gather and have fellowship. The number of members of our church had increased from four people to 200, and I began to say to myself that maybe I shouldn’t have insisted on us meeting. I regularly prayed that the rest of our church members, who hadn’t been at the meeting, wouldn’t be exposed. There were many strange and difficult days, but I prayed and sang worship songs.

32. I also experienced other different emotions in those days. One of them was that I was worried and didn’t know what would happen to me and the other detainees, because we had heard terrible things about the torture and killing of people who participated in the protests of 2009. It may sound strange, but I had been waiting for years to be persecuted for God, and now it had finally happened.

33. Once, the interrogator discussed Islam and Christianity with me. He insulted my Christian faith many times, and I defended Christianity; I tried to live out my faith in the days of persecution. But I consider the hero of this story to be God, because he gave me this courage.

34. In all the harsh conditions and torture of detention, all the thoughts I had about being weak or strong before my arrest faded away, and God’s strength was with me. In those days, all I was concerned about was the other members of the church. I prayed they wouldn’t be arrested, and that God’s protection would be with them.

35. After those 12 days of no interrogations, they finally took me for another interrogation. Interrogators have many techniques, and during those days they had collected a lot of information from the other detained Christians. When I avoided answering a question, or refused to mention the names of other Christians, the interrogator himself gave me the answers, and said: “Just write.” I found out that they had a lot of information about us.

36. For the interrogations, they put me on a chair with a small table attached to it, facing the wall. The interrogator was behind me, and having someone standing behind you, and not being able to see them and their reactions, is terrifying. Occasionally, I would lift my blindfold just to reassure myself. The interrogator kept asking the same questions, and I always had to give an answer.

37. The interrogators used different tactics to try to destroy my self-esteem. I had seen some videos of the killing of students in the protests of 2009, where students were thrown, blindfolded, from the roof. They blindfolded me as they took me for interrogations, and sometimes I imagined that they were going to throw me down from a high place, like a cliff. Sometimes, on the way to the interrogation room, my legs would become weak, and I would find it difficult to walk. They didn’t know what thoughts were going through my mind.

38. My interrogations were long and tiring, hours full of stress and anxiety. The clothes I had been given were thin, and it was cold. During the interrogations, I had to sit, motionless, on a chair, and I shivered because of the cold. The interrogators enjoyed it, and said: “Are you scared?”

39. The interrogators used terrible insults and threats, saying: “We’ll send you to prison, where we have people who will bring the worst possible disasters upon you!” They used a lot of swear words and I didn’t feel able to defend myself. Because my eyes were blindfolded, I didn’t know how many people were standing around me. They wanted to weaken my spirit. They insulted the other members of the church, and said: “We had spies in there with you!” They wanted to make me suspicious of the other members. This kind of white torture is so painful that it makes you wish they would use physical torture instead. Many times I said to myself: “I wish they would beat me, and not say all these things about me and my friends!”

40. In the cell, we were given a bucket to wash our clothes in. Sometimes I would fill it with water and put my head under and scream. I didn’t want anyone else to hear my voice and feel bad. 

41. After 20 days’ detention, I was allowed to call a friend for the first time, briefly, to talk to him about the apartment and shop I had rented but would now have to give up. In the end, it took four months until I could hand over the shop, and for these four months my shop was sealed, even though they had found nothing there related to Christianity. I was eventually able to hand over my apartment as well, but the process for both of these things was very difficult and I suffered a lot of financial loss.

42. My cell was extremely small, only around 6 sq metres, and there were also three other prisoners there. One of them was a university professor who had been detained three months before my arrival, and I later learned that he was released two months after we met. The toilet and shower there were completely open, so when I went to the toilet the three other prisoners could see me, and this was a serious psychological torture for me. The university professor tried to encourage me, and said: “Relax, don’t feel ashamed.” Before I had arrived in this cell, he had written several letters to the prison officials, asking for fruit. Finally, they agreed to his request and brought fruit to our cell once or twice a week.

43. In most of the cells, there were no other books than the Quran and Mafatih [prayer book], but the professor in my cell had been given special permission to bring in several other books. One of them was Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, which I had been wanting to read for years. I was very happy to have the opportunity to read this book, which is full of Bible verses. The translator of the book, Mr Shojauddin Shafa, had included all the sources, so in this way I was able to read verses from the Bible.

44. During one of the interrogations, I had drawn a picture of the sun and a cross on a paper napkin, and I used to sleep next to it, and confide in God. But the prison officials later took away that napkin, during an inspection of the cell. Of course, the interrogator had reprimanded me very much when he saw the napkin, and what I had drawn on it. But now I was able to take great comfort in reading the Bible verses in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. We didn’t have a TV in the cell, so we were bored, but reading books helped.

Forced confession

45. On the 33rd night of my detention, I was taken for interrogation at a different time than usual. They gave me a sheet of paper, which had some text written on it, and said: “Read this, write it in your own handwriting, sign it, and put your fingerprint on it.” In that text, it was written: “I, Vahid Hakani, am a member of a deviant Christian sect. I repent and promise not to visit this group again. I will not communicate with any of the Christians, and I will not form a church.” I said: “I don’t accept this at all! We weren’t a deviant sect! We are Christians!” The interrogator said: “The official churches of Iran don’t accept you.” I said: “I don’t care who accepts us, and who doesn’t. The one whose acceptance we really need [God] has accepted us, and that’s enough for me.” He said: “If you write this, and sign it, the judge will help you.” I said: “I don’t need anyone’s help. What did I do to make someone want to help me? I won’t write this.”

46. He said: “All the others wrote it and signed it, except for you!” But I knew they were just trying to trick me, so I said: “Everyone is responsible for their own actions.” He said: “Shall I bring their sheets, so you can read them?” I said: “I don’t care at all what others have written. I won’t write it.” He said: “You have to write something!” I said: “What should I write?” He said: “Write whatever you like.” So I wrote: “I am Vahid Hakani, a Christian, and I didn’t know until today that gathering and worshipping and praying in the name of Christ isn’t legal in this country. I promise not to do this from now on.” The interrogator said: “You must write that you won’t communicate with any Christians after your release.” I said: “They are my whole life; they are everything to me! I have no family; this is my family. So I’ll be in touch with them for the rest of my life!” The interrogator said: “You know what’s best for you; what you are saying will end up harming you.” I said: “Whatever happens will happen!”

47. During my imprisonment, I realised that our weakness and strength aren’t important, but it is God who gives us patience and endurance to stand strong in the conditions of persecution. I used to play football before I was arrested, so during the 20 minutes of outdoor time that we were given every three days, I used to run from one side of the yard to the other and encourage myself that I would soon be released. Sometimes I looked at the cameras in the yard, and smiled, remembering how the interrogator had taken me into his office one day, after my outdoor time, and had told me: “Why do you look into the cameras and smile? You are like a homeless person, who has been brought somewhere and is being fed, given a place to sleep and a shelter so he doesn’t get cold.” I was blindfolded, so I couldn’t see him, but I could feel his anger. He wanted to humiliate me.

48. Later, when I entered the general ward of the prison, I couldn’t sleep for several nights. One night I realised that I had great resentment in my heart towards the interrogators, so I decided not to carry this resentment with me, and instead to forgive them and pray for them. Now, whenever I think about those days in prison, I pray and intercede for all my interrogators.

Central detention centre

49. On the 34th day of my detention, they gave me back the clothes I had been wearing when I was first detained, and told me to put them on. Then I was taken out of that “Pelak-e 100” place, blindfolded, and put in a van. Although I was blindfolded, I felt that there were other prisoners in the van, and I could just make out from underneath the blindfold that it was two of the other detained Christians from my house-church, Homayoun and Mojtaba. Then, when we had left Pelak-e 100 and were on the main road, they told us: “Raise your head and take off your blindfolds, but don’t talk to each other.” It was a beautiful feeling to see my friends. There were tears in our eyes. They didn’t allow us to talk to each other, but our eyes spoke to each other and we felt the happiness of seeing each other again. I assumed that we were going to be taken to court, and then released.

50. On the third or the fourth day of our detention, before we had even been convicted, they had shaved our heads. They had wanted to humiliate us and make us stand out among the other prisoners. We were all bald, and had long beards, but we were very happy to see each other. Some of the others who had been arrested alongside us had been released on bail until the court hearing.

51. As we passed the place where we had been detained, I happily thought that they were going to take us back there, then release us. But we kept going, and a little farther on we came to the central detention centre, which is located next to Adel Abad Prison. I wasn’t well that day, and the fingerprinting took a long time and my condition worsened very much.

52. After 34 days’ detention, I was finally allowed to make a one-minute call to one of my friends, just to let him know that I was alive and well.

53. The central detention centre was a very dirty, polluted, and bad environment, but it had several advantages. Firstly, my friends and I were together again, and we prayed together and shared what we had said to the interrogators.

Adel Abad Prison and the Green Ward

54. After about a week at the central detention centre, they transferred us to Adel Abad Prison. It isn’t more than 100 steps from the central detention centre to Adel Abad but, even so, they transferred us there by bus. Every prisoner, including Mojtaba, Homayoun and me, was handcuffed to two others, and put onto the bus. The number of prisoners in the bus was higher than the capacity, and it took about an hour before all the information about the prisoners was logged, and it finally started to drive. It was a very hard experience. Even though the distance was so close, and the bus could have driven and returned two or three times, they took all these prisoners together to Adel Abad Prison in one go. It was terrible. Koroush was held at the detention centre for a few more days, and then he was also brought to the prison.

55. Because Adel Abad Prison was crowded, we were initially taken to the “quarantine” section [where prisoners are held before being transferred or released]. We prayed that we would be placed in the same cell. Fariba had been taken to Nesvan Prison, which was far from Adel Abad Prison, and we were worried about her.

56. The internal director of the prison came to the quarantine section to oversee our transfer to the cells. We thought that if we said we were part of the same case, we would be sent to the same cell and be together. But when he found out about our crime and realised we were part of the same case, he told us: “You shouldn’t be together!” He sent me to the ward for armed robbers, Homayoun to the ward for those who had committed financial crimes, and Mojtaba, who was younger, to the ward for those convicted of murder. We were especially worried about him.

57. To enter Adel Abad Prison, you go through a tunnel, and then, after entering a large corridor, you reach the four main wards of Adel Abad Prison: “Pak” Ward, which was mainly for those who had committed financial crimes; Ward 10, or “Hemat” Ward, for those who had committed crimes such as murder and armed robbery; Ward 11, or “Neshat” Ward, also for crimes like armed robbery; and Salamat Ward, where drug-addicted prisoners were given methadone. Each of these wards had three floors, and the third floor was separated from the first and second floors. The first and second floors were connected, but these floors were also separated later. Due to the large number of prisoners, new additional wards were also created in Adel Abad Prison, each consisting of one or more units. During our imprisonment, different names were given to the new wards, such as the Ebrat Ward [Lesson Ward], the Amouzesh Ward [Education Ward], which I never saw from inside, and the Javanan Ward [Youth Ward], which later became the women’s ward. Another of them was the Green Ward, which was made up of four separate units.

58. My room, in Ward 11 of Adel Abad Prison, was about 22-23 sq metres. It was a small space, with just a few beds and a refrigerator, but there were 34 prisoners there on the day I arrived. I wondered where all these prisoners slept!

59. I don’t remember exactly the date when I entered Adel Abad Prison, but I think it was around 14 or 16 March and the weather was very cold. I arrived there with the same clothes I had been wearing on the day of my arrest. I didn’t have any blanket or warm clothes. I didn’t have any money either.

60. The prison official had emphasised to us: “If someone asks about your crime, don’t tell them!” We decided to say that our crime was “political”, but that wasn’t so simple, because when we would say that, the prisoners would ask many questions, like: “Which group do you belong to?” And “What did you do?” I didn’t want to lie, so it was stressful. In those moments, I asked God many questions, like: “God, why am I here? Didn’t you say ‘I’ll protect you’?”

61. On the same day I arrived in the 11th ward of the prison, I asked one of the officials in charge of my cell why we had been sent to cells for criminals who had committed armed robbery or murder, despite our “political” charges. Surprised, he replied: “Why didn’t you say this earlier! Now it’s time to count [the prisoners before bed]. Go to sleep, and tomorrow morning, before my shift ends and I leave, come and see me so that I can take you out of this section and send you to the third floor.”

62. When I returned to my room and discussed my transfer with one of the inmates, he told me: “The third floor is very good. You’ll be relieved! There, they pray from morning till night; they read the Quran. No-one bothers them!” I realised then that it seemed that several of the wards in Adel Abad had been converted into Quranic wards. Some prisoners actually went to these wards of their own free will, because in these wards they would receive Islamic education and pray regularly and, in return, they would get extra benefits, like being allowed to make more phone calls and being given an hour outside every day. They also had a good shop, with different products, and they could easily apply for conditional release and might even be granted amnesty.

63. After dinner, we had to go to sleep, but before dinner there had been a bad fight between some of my cellmates. The other prisoners there were constantly arguing and fighting. That’s why I went to the ward official again, and asked when he would send me upstairs. I had to sleep on the floor, next to the rubbish bin. I didn’t have a pillow, so I put my slippers under my head, but I couldn’t get any sleep. I thought to myself that when I went to the third floor, instead of praying and reciting the Quran, I’d read verses from the Bible and sing the songs I had memorised. I was trying to justify this decision to myself and convince myself that I could adapt myself to the conditions there. It was difficult: on the one hand, I didn’t want to undermine my beliefs as a Christian, and on the other, the atmosphere of Ward 11 was unbearable. In the end, I resolved to go to the jailer and tell him that I didn’t want to go to the third floor.

64. So early the next morning, I went to see him and said: “I can’t go up there, because I’m a Christian.” He was surprised, and said: “Shame on you! Does a Muslim become a Christian? Leave! I can’t do anything for you until after the Nowruz [the Iranian New Year] holidays. You have to stay here.”

65. In the Bible it says Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to prostrate themselves before the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, but although they were thrown into the fire, they weren’t harmed, and instead of three people, there were four [because an angel was with them]. In the same way, I felt the presence of God by my side.

66. Before going to work that day, the deputy head of the prison, Mr Eskandari, who later took over from [Ali] Mozafari as head of the prison, came up the stairs and saw me talking to the prison officer, and the officer told him: “Mr Eskandari, this prisoner has been bothering us since last night! See what he has to say!” This was the only time I ever saw Mr Eskandari at the prison so early in the morning. Apparently he had come at 5.30am to partake in the morning prayers with the prisoners. I said to him: “Sir, I am a Christian. Why have you put me here?” He said: “Bring him to my office.” I told him: “Besides me, there are some other Christians in different wards.” He asked for their names, and sent someone to bring them, too.

67. So my friends were also brought to his office, and they joined our conversation and we talked about Christianity. He asked: “Why did you become a Christian?” And for about an hour, I explained it to him. I was praying for Mr Eskandari in my heart, and he thought I was stressed and said: “I’m sending you to Band-e Sabz [Green Ward]. I’m just waiting for the psychologist to come and accept you. Don’t be stressed.” I said: “I’m not stressed; I was praying for you that God would touch your heart.” He was enraged by my answer and said: “Are you evangelising to me? Are you advertising right now? Starting today, I’ll send three people to watch you and let me know whenever you talk to anyone about Christianity! Then I know what I’ll do to you!” 

68. One of the prison rules was that in order to enter the Green Ward, a psychologist had to first examine the prisoner and approve his transfer. But that day, Mr Shekarriz, the prison psychologist, came to the prison late, so we were transferred to Band-e Sabz without his approval.

69. At least in contrast to all the dirty places we had been in, when we entered the Green Ward it was as though we had entered heaven. It was at least clean there, and there was a library and a music unit. The Green Ward was considered the best ward in Adel Abad, and it was much more cared for in every way. Of course, it had its own inconsistencies too; for example, unit three was cleaner than units one and two, and unit four was dirtier than all the others. There was a man named Mehdi Mansouri in unit three, and he was very rich and in charge of the entire Green Ward – he was the representative of the prisoners there – and of course he cared more about unit three, where he himself lived, so it was much cleaner there. But you could visit all the different units anyway, and come and go.

Segregation in Ebrat Ward

70. We evangelised to the other prisoners, even though several times they had made us promise not to evangelise or talk about Christianity with anyone, and the psychologist, internal director, and prison security officer had made us sign commitments in this regard. But finally, because we were still evangelising, the head of the prison sent us to different wards. They took us out of the Green Ward, and Homayoun was transferred to Ward 10 and Koroush to Ward 11. Mojtaba and I were both transferred to Pak Ward, and we could see each other regularly, but Mojtaba was on the first floor and I was on the second floor. Once, when the metal door between the two floors was closed, we put our hands through the bars and joined hands and prayed.

71. But a few months later, the officials heard reports from the different places we had been transferred that we were talking about Christianity with other prisoners. For this reason, about eight months after we entered the prison, they decided to transfer the four of us, for the next 21 months, to Ebrat Ward. At that time, five people from the so-called “Church of Iran” group had also been arrested, and along with those five new people, they sent us to Ebrat Ward. Of course, before we entered that place, which was just a big storage room, there was nothing there. In that place, we weren’t offered any of the regular facilities given to other prisoners, and were only allowed to make phone calls or go outside whenever they decided.

72. The ward was basically just a big room, around 70-80 sq metres in size, with two toilets and lots of beds. They removed the extra beds, but the blankets there were full of dirt. It was very cold there, and there was no tap, gas supply, or telephone. The nine of us spent some time cleaning the room, and after a while they connected a gas pipe and gave us a small hob so that we could cook. They also installed some water pipes. The ceiling was a metal grid, but even though there were holes in it, the air hardly circulated, so after a while they also installed a ventilator. But in this section of the prison, they didn’t have any area for prisoners to get fresh air, so we had to be taken out of the prison and back to the back of the quarantine section when they let us out to get some fresh air. And of course, they did this only whenever they wanted; there was no structure. They called that place Band-e Ebrat [the “Lesson Ward”] because it should be a lesson for others, but we used to call it Band-e Gheyrat [“Zealous Ward”].

73. In prison, you are only allowed to receive visits from first-degree family members. My mother had died, and I had no relationship with my father at that time. My aunt tried to visit me, but she could only get in once, after bringing my mother’s death certificate with her. Because our names had been published in the media [outside Iran], they scared her, and said: “You should forget Vahid’s name, or you’ll get into trouble!”

74. With the help of other prisoners, I was also able to arrange two unsanctioned visits from non-relatives during my three years in detention. If I had been in a normal ward, it wouldn’t have been possible, because there is more monitoring there. But my lawyer also worked hard to help make it happen. One of the visits was from Helma. I said to Eskandari: “I don’t have anyone else to come to visit me, so why don’t you let me see Helma?” Since childhood, Helma had had a strong attachment to me, and finally the lawyer was able to get permission for me to see her. When Helma finally came to see me, I hadn’t seen her for several years and she had grown up, and grown tall.

Six months of hard waiting for surgery

75. I had intestinal bleeding for a whole year in prison, which began while I was in the Green Ward, due to all the stress I was under. For the first six months, I had light bleeding, but in the second six months, it was heavy. The doctor of the prison clinic prescribed that I should undergo surgery. Two doctors outside the prison, and the coroner, also confirmed that I needed surgery.

76. The judge harassed me a lot before allowing me to get treatment. I went to different doctors for six months, and they confirmed my illness and my need for surgery, but the judge wouldn’t allow me to go to the hospital for surgery without handcuffs and chains on my feet. The forensic doctor didn’t see the need to examine me. Seeing my face, he realised that I was bleeding profusely and that I was sick. “You don’t need to come forward,” he told me, and confirmed that I needed surgery.

77. The days waiting for surgery were very difficult. With handcuffs on my hands and feet, and accompanied by four armed officers, they would take me out of prison back into the outside world, and to the hospital. In my release note, they would write: “Under strict protection!” One of the officers asked: “What did you do that they have written that you are under strict protection?” I said: “I’m a Christian.”

78. When I was being taken to the hospital, the sound made by the chains on my legs made people look at me suspiciously, and distance themselves from me. They must have thought I had committed a serious crime. I felt very humiliated.

79. Another of the doctors who examined me was called Vahid Hosseini. He was afraid when he saw the shackles on my legs and the officers by my side carrying guns, and thought I had committed a serious crime. He examined me with fear, at a distance, and clearly not feeling at all comfortable. I begged him to write clearly how bad my condition was, so that the judge would be persuaded and allow me to have surgery. Fariba had visited Dr Hosseini on a separate occasion, and had said: “Do you know what Vahid Hakani’s crime is that you didn’t even want to touch and examine him? Vahid is a Christian!” When I went to see Dr Hosseini again for an examination, he apologised to me and said: “I didn’t know what your crime was. With the way you were brought in, I thought you were a dangerous prisoner and had committed a serious crime!” Eventually, the same Dr Hosseini operated on me.

80. During the six months I was waiting for the surgery, I prayed with the other Christian prisoners that I would be allowed to have it. There were many problems along the way, but God removed the obstacles. Before the surgery, the internal director of the prison told me: “Vahid, this process is very long. Go with these handcuffs and chains on your feet, so that they’ll operate on you.” I said: “No! I won’t go like this.” Fariba, who had been released, called the judge overseeing the prison and said: “Please convince Vahid to undergo surgery under these conditions.” Then this judge called [Akbar] Rashidi, the judge of the Revolutionary Court, and said: “Look, Akbar! Do you want to temporarily release him for surgery or not? Because he is dying!” Judge Rashidi then said: “[His family] should bring the necessary documents for his bail, so that we can release him.”

81. But I didn’t possess a property deed, nor have anyone else to pledge it for me. It was a big pain because all my medical checks had been done and the doctor had ordered my surgery, but I couldn’t submit bail. The judge had set a bail of 250 million tomans [around $85,000] for my temporary release for surgery. Legally, my bail should have been 20 million tomans [$6,500] for each year of imprisonment. Therefore, according to the law, my bail should have been 40 million tomans [$13,000]. I explained my situation to the judge and said “I don’t have 250 million tomans.” He reduced my bail to 150 million tomans [$50,000], and said: “This isn’t a grocery store, where you can negotiate with me!” Finally, the mother of one of the other Christian detainees pledged her house deed for me, so that I could be temporarily released for surgery.

82. I was released on bail on 29 July 2013, and after my surgery I went to the homes of the families of the other detained Christians to find out about their wellbeing. They were restless and crying. I didn’t have a good time when I was out of prison. I ate with tears streaming from my eyes because I remembered those who were still in prison. ​​Some Christians came to see me and said: “Do you want to go back to prison?” I told them: “Yes, I will go back to prison. And not just because someone else submitted a document [for bail] on my behalf. Even if I had submitted my own document, I would still go back to prison because I don’t want to be out and free until every one of us is free.” I wasn’t willing to be out of prison myself, while they were in prison; I wanted to be released together with my friends. That’s why I was so happy when I went back to prison after my second surgery in December 2013. When I entered Band-e Ebrat, I happily said: “I’m back!” There were even some new prisoners there by then, and they were surprised by my happiness.

Court hearings

83. The ruling in our case was given by the 3rd branch of the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz, but actually the decision-maker for our verdict wasn’t the judge, but the Ministry of Intelligence, which controlled the judge’s decision. Since we entered the prison, in the various court sessions that we had for around a year, we always saw an agent representing the Ministry of Intelligence in the court.

84. Our court hearings took place over several sessions. We would be chained together, and taken to the court. They must have taken us there about 17 or 18 times. Every time, we had to get ready at six in the morning, before they did the daily counting of prisoners. Even in the cold of winter, we were taken to the court in our thin prison clothes, and returned to the prison between three and four in the afternoon.

85. During this time, they harassed us a lot. The judge deliberately cancelled our hearings under various pretexts. Once, we were going to the court and the judge said: “I’m not feeling well, and I’m not in the mood.” Another time it was because they hadn’t also brought Homayoun’s wife, Fariba, from the women’s prison. Then they said that since they couldn’t find any prisoner named “Esmail” – Homayoun’s real name – in the prison computer system, Homayoun hadn’t been brought to the court, and so the meeting couldn’t be held.

86. When we sat in the waiting area of the court, next to the judge’s office, we would pray together and sing worship songs. Our intention wasn’t to provoke the government officials; we did it for our own comfort and strength, and also for the family members who had come to the court.

87. The other Christian prisoners’ families had approached several lawyers about our case, which was considered a “security” case, but none of these lawyers was willing to represent us. But, finally, another prisoner introduced us to a lawyer.

88. But this lawyer, Mr Taravat, then had to explain to the court that: “I am a Shia, my religion is Islam, but the law says about these prisoners…” Judge Rashidi was very rude, and disrespected us regularly. I once said to him: “Can I ask you to be our judge, instead of the complainant? The Ministry of Intelligence and the prosecutor are supposed to be the complainants. You are supposed to judge between us and them, but you talk as if you are the complainant!”

89. At our last hearing, the judge asked us to defend ourselves. He thought we would express remorse and ask for forgiveness. But I said: “When the Ministry of Intelligence arrested us, they took lots of Christian books from me. I bought these books when a dollar was worth one thousand tomans. Now the dollar is worth three thousand tomans, so would you please tell the Ministry of Intelligence to return these books?” He got very angry, but I didn’t intend to anger him; I just expressed my logical and legal request.

90. We had been in prison for around 18 months by this stage, and didn’t know what sentence was going to be issued to us, nor were we given access to any of the usual facilities available to prisoners [such as being able to make telephone calls, or being permitted temporary leave from prison or conditional release]. Legally, the judge is allowed to extend the temporary detention order once or twice, but our detention order was extended more than eight times. In those 18 months, no bail amount was even set for us. The entire judicial process in our case was unlawful; our case was deadlocked, and we were in a state of complete uncertainty.


91. Finally, after those 18 months, Homayoun, Mojtaba, Koroush and I were sentenced to three years and eight months in prison for “acting against the security of the regime through the formation of propaganda groups and meetings with the aim of promotion and propaganda”, and “propaganda against the regime”. The rest of those in our case were sentenced to 18 to 24 months of suspended imprisonment on charges of “membership in illegal groups” and “propaganda activities against the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran in favour of groups opposed to the regime”. The others wanted to appeal, but I didn’t think there was any point, and thought it would just be a wasted effort. I told my friends: “They’ll never accept our appeal. If you want to, go ahead and appeal, but I’m sure nothing will change.”

92. Around five months later, my friends’ appeal was rejected, and the judge’s ruling was upheld by the appeal court. At that time, I was out of prison for my surgery, so I used the opportunity to visit the two appeal-court judges and asked them: “Can you tell me why you upheld the verdict? What sin did I commit?” They said: “Look here, my son! You appealed the verdict, but the Ministry of Intelligence and prosecutor also appealed the verdict; that is to say that you said three years and eight months was too long, but the Ministry of Intelligence and prosecutor said that it was too short! So leave us; we had to find a compromise!”

93. When I returned to prison after my surgery, my friends suggested we appeal for conditional release. All of us were in prison for the first time, and due to our lack of criminal records, we had the right to conditional release after serving a third of our sentences. At that time, about two and a half years had passed since our imprisonment, so we were able to use this right.

94. However, Homayoun and Mojtaba also had suspended sentences of eight months from previous detentions, and because of this, their request was likely to be rejected. So I said to them: “You apply for conditional release, and if they accept your request, I’ll also apply. But this is my first time in prison, and I don’t have any suspended sentence, and I don’t want to be released earlier than you, while you are still in prison.”

95. So my three friends filled out request forms for conditional release, but Judge Zare, who was a very bad-tempered and scary person, rejected their request.

Hunger strikes

96. I went on a hunger strike when I heard that my friends’ applications for conditional release had been rejected, but I didn’t tell the prison officials about it until the eighth day. At first, I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to handle, but after those eight days of not eating or drinking anything, I realised that I didn’t feel hungry at all, so I continued. Later, I found out that the news of my hunger strike hadn’t reached Article18 until the 37th day.

97. However, it was wrongly reported in the news that “Vahid went on hunger strike because his request for conditional release was rejected”, whereas I hadn’t actually asked for conditional release; I was on hunger strike because of my friends. But I didn’t mind what was reported; my goal was clear.

98. My friends actually didn’t want me to do it, and told me: “We don’t agree with what you are doing. Why are you doing it?” Later on, after my release, some Christians even said to me: “A Christian shouldn’t protest or go on strike!” But I was willing to undertake this action to achieve the conditional release of my friends, and on the 50th day of my hunger strike, Koroush was released.

99. I wasn’t in good physical or mental condition. I felt very disappointed and depressed; I thought no-one would care even if I died. But I later learned that Article18 had spoken to many churches about our situation, and in addition to praying for us in church, these Christians had sent us postcards regularly. It was almost the 50th day of my hunger strike when I received one of the postcards sent to me from America. And the American brother who had written it had translated the meaning of my name, “Vahid”, which means “lonely”, so he had written in English: “Vahid, you are alone, but not alone; I prayed for you today that our heavenly Father would comfort you, give you peace and heal you.” I was very encouraged and happy to read that postcard.

100. In prison, anyone who goes on a hunger strike is sent to a place called “Ershad” [which means “guidance”], which is a place where they hold those who have disobeyed the rules: for example, if they have been in a fight. The conditions in Ershad were very dirty, and infested with various insects such as lice. But when I went on my hunger strikes, they kept me in the normal prison, and didn’t send me to Ershad.

101. One day during my hunger strikes, when I felt very unwell, they ordered that I was taken to the prison hospital. But the conditions there were also very dirty. Prisoners with all kinds of diseases, including contagious diseases, were brought there, and the possibility that various diseases might spread was high. I didn’t want to stay there at all, and asked to be returned to my cell. I said: “I don’t need medical treatment or an infusion.” 

102. In prison, there were three people who would take on the role of “substitute officers” after usual office hours, and they would rotate. So one of them would be in prison for 24 hours, and then they would be absent for 48 hours. One of them played the role of a good officer, one of them was neutral, and another, named Najafi, treated prisoners badly. And that day, it was Najafi’s shift, and he wrote under my name, “Disobeying orders”, and said: “I’m sending you to Ershad for disobeying the order to stay in the hospital.” I said: “Send me wherever you want, but I won’t stay in that hospital!” We had just arrived in Ershad when someone called him and said he shouldn’t take me there, and should send me back to my own ward, which was the Ebrat Ward. He got very angry, but had to take me back to Band-e Ebrat.

103. After Koroush was released, they promised to send Mojtaba, Homayoun and me from Ebrat Ward to the public ward, and that they’d look into Homayoun and Mojtaba’s cases. Then, around 10 days later, according to the order of the prison security committee, they separated us; they sent Mojtaba and Homayoun to the Green Ward, and I was sent to Pak Ward.

104. It was said in the prison, and we also thought it, that the Ministry of Intelligence had requested that we Christian prisoners should be treated better, and that our safety should be ensured, especially since the news of our imprisonment had been reported in the media. So they were paying attention to us; for example, when I was on hunger strike, the head of healthcare visited me even during the holidays, to be updated about my condition.

105. The bunk-beds in my new room in Pak Wark were three-tiered. My bed was on the bottom, and underneath the bed above me I wrote verses from the Psalms, and every morning I would read them and feel strengthened.

106. I ended my first hunger strike when they transferred us, so my first hunger strike lasted 60 days. I had just started eating again – yoghurt, juice, and then gradually bread and rice – but after a few days I called a Christian friend of mine and asked if Homayoun and Mojtaba’s conditional release had also been agreed. When I found out that it hadn’t, I announced another hunger strike. The prison officials asked me why, so I wrote down my reason and handed it to them.

107. Fifteen days into my second hunger strike, when the deputy of the General Attorney of Fars Province, Mr Zabihullah Khodaeian, and his office chief came to visit the prison, they saw me and asked me the reason for my hunger strike. “Because the conditional release of my fellow Christian friends was not agreed to,” I answered. They asked me to explain, and I replied: “According to your law, we had the right to be conditionally released. But despite this, my friends’ request was rejected.” They said: “Write down what you have told us, and give it to us.”

108. There are request forms for prisoners, which I filled in and gave to them. Mr Khodaeian’s deputy and the head of his office told me: “Tell their families to come to my office on Tuesday.” I informed the families, and they went to Mr Khodaeian’s office, and he gave them a sealed letter to take to the Revolutionary Court, and Mrs Zare. In this way, the conditional release of my two other friends was also approved. The release order was reviewed by the prison security committee, and their release letter was issued. So I broke my second hunger strike after 25 days.

109. After these two hunger strikes, I had lost about 35 kilos, and was extremely weak and emaciated. Years later, I still suffer from the physical effects of these hunger strikes. But I don’t regret that I did it, because I really wanted to do something to help secure the freedom of my friends.

110. Now that I was sure that my friends would be released soon, I applied for conditional release for myself but, since my hunger strikes, some of the prison officials, like Eskandari, who used to respect me, changed their behaviour towards me, and treated me coldly.

111. According to the prison regulations, when a prisoner commits an act against prison regulations, he is banned from accessing any of the extra benefits available to prisoners for six months. And during this period, the prisoner also isn’t eligible for conditional release. Eskandari told me: “We count your six-month ban as starting on the first day of your hunger strike. So, you’re banned for another three months. After that, you can apply for parole.”

112. So, after the end of this period, I applied for conditional release again, and awaited the result. Then a few weeks later, someone from the Ministry of Intelligence came and took me to the prison security office. The deputy guard of the prison made me sit down, facing the wall. Another person standing behind me asked: “Do you know me? Do you remember me?” I said: “No, I don’t remember you.” But it seemed that he had already interrogated me. He said to me: “What do you want to do when you get out of prison?” I said: “I don’t know! I have been here for three years. This is almost my home! I don’t have a home outside.” He said: “If you are released now, are you going to form a group [house-church] again?” I said: “I already said when I was first detained that I didn’t know it wasn’t legal, and that I wouldn’t do it again.” He said: “Look, Vahid! If you do something like this again, this time we’ll keep you at the Ministry of Intelligence for six months, and instead of three years and eight months, we’ll issue you a 10-year prison sentence! We aren’t telling you to leave Iran, but we are also not suggesting that you should want to stay.” The way he spoke made me think he wanted to indirectly tell me to leave Iran. About a month after this conversation, my conditional release was approved, and I was released from prison on 26 January 2015.


113. After my release, I couldn’t sleep well. I regularly had nightmares about prison, and other bad dreams.

114. I was in a difficult situation. I had no place to live; I had lost my home and shop; I didn’t have a job; I didn’t even have money to rent a room. 

115. During my imprisonment, I spent many hours praying for the other members of our church, and asking God to protect them. After I was released, I called them and asked to meet with them, but they were afraid. Of course I understood why, because after being released prisoners are kept under surveillance by the Ministry of Intelligence.

116. Before prison, I had a good job and my business was booming. Now, I had lost my job and had been forced to sell many of my belongings. When I got out of prison, I sometimes said to myself that “I wish I hadn’t applied for conditional release”, because I had nowhere to go outside prison. My family wasn’t waiting for me; I was a single young man and, due to my age, I didn’t feel comfortable staying long-term with other people.

117. It was a very difficult situation. I had invested some money in some businesses, but I couldn’t get it back after I was arrested. I had also loaned some money to a member of our church, but he didn’t give it back, even during the difficult days of my surgery, when I desperately needed money.

118. Prisoners need money in prison. I had sold my car before entering prison, and during that time in prison, through my friends, I was able to sell my motorcycle and meet my needs in prison. While I was out for surgery, I also sold some other household items to pay part of the surgery expenses, and one of my friends helped pay the rest. But after my release, I was in financial trouble and didn’t even have enough money to stay in a cheap hotel. A friend suggested that I leave Iran for a while, to improve my mental condition, and then return to Iran again, so on 15 March 2015 I travelled to Turkey.


119. When I left Iran, more Christians were being arrested and, after evaluating the situation, I decided not to return. As a result, I had to register myself with the United Nations, and become a refugee in Turkey.

120. But I felt very lonely in Turkey. I felt that God’s work in my life was over. Once, I even decided to commit suicide. The people around me were encouraged and strengthened after hearing my testimonies from my time in prison, but I felt empty. I decided to ask everyone who knew me to pray for me, and after about three or four months, my mental condition changed.

121. Some members of our house-church in Iran had previously been in other house-church groups and had been baptised by their leaders. But, due to security considerations in Iran, few people were willing to take this risk and baptise church members – often, the government imposes heavier punishments on those who conduct baptisms – so this important event hadn’t happened yet for me. I had waited for many years and, finally, after my release, I was baptised in Turkey.

122. When I was in prison, I promised myself that after my release I would help those who were persecuted for their Christian faith. Thankfully, I have been able to connect with various organisations and help other victims and refugees. Currently, I am working with one organisation in this field, and through this cooperation, I have been able to provide a lot of help to Christians who have suffered persecution.