Witness Statements

Elaheh and Touraj

Elaheh and Touraj

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



1. My name is Elaheh Kiani and I was born in Isfahan in 1971. I was a devout Muslim and followed the religious rituals. But in my late thirties I came across Christian satellite channels by chance, and by watching the programmes I was challenged in my thoughts and became eager to research more about Islam and Christianity and to gain knowledge about their differences. For about eight to nine months, I carefully followed the programmes of Christian channels. One of the things that I discovered was that, contrary to what I had thought, Christians worship one God, not three.

2. During that same period of time, Elina, our second daughter, who was four and a half years old at the time, had some kind of kidney disease. We had to take her to the doctor regularly, and she was under the care of a kidney specialist. Her doctor said her kidney condition might worsen and that she might lose her kidney. We were very upset about this. Then one day, while watching a Christian satellite channel, after hearing the sermon and prayer of a Christian leader, I suddenly felt ready to believe in Jesus Christ as the saviour, and although Elina was just a child, we both knelt together. As I cried, I experienced a strange and special feeling, and professed my faith in Jesus Christ. This took place on 15 January 2009, and both I and Elina became Christians and grew in our faith from that time.

3. Elina was a child and physically weak. The doctor tried many things to help her, including X-rays, but at the same time as these medical procedures, I was praying for her and asking Jesus for help in healing her. A few weeks later, we took Elina for a check-up, and when the doctor saw her test results, he was surprised and said: “Elina’s kidney is fine! This can only be a miracle!” After this, God took away my fears and gave me the strength and courage to tell my husband Touraj that “I have become a Christian, and it’s impossible for me to give up this faith”. Touraj was a little upset initially, and said: “You’ve become an Armenian?” [Historically in Iran, most Christians have been of Armenian or Assyrian descent.] But this was the beginning of Touraj’s curiosity and his further research in the field of Christianity. Meanwhile, I also became more eager to study more about Christianity and have a closer relationship with God.

4. Meanwhile, four months after I started believing in Christ, my eldest daughter Arghavan, who was 15 years old at the time, also became a Christian. Through a Christian TV channel we were introduced to another Christian, and then in 2011 we met some lovely Christian women named Sara and Atena Fooladi Helabad, and Nasrin Kiamarzi, and we attended house-church meetings together.


5. My name is Touraj Shirani Bidabadi and I was born in Isfahan in 1967. I was born into a Muslim family and was a religious person. When I found out that my wife had become a Christian, I disagreed with her to an extent, and talked to her about the positives of Islam. She asked me to read the Quran again with the Persian translation, and to study it more carefully, and we decided to talk again after I had done so. Meanwhile, I also studied the books of other religions, such as the [Zoroastrian] Avesta and [Jewish] Talmud, to prove to my wife that all paths are the same and lead to God – though later I decided that these other books were only the product of human thought, and not from God.

6. Based on the religious propaganda taught by the Islamic government of Iran, we had the wrong image of Christians and thought that freedom in Christianity meant having no morals, no headscarf, drinking alcohol, and having lustful thoughts, etc. These thoughts troubled me, so I said to the house-church leader: “If you like, come and have your meetings at our home. It doesn’t matter how many of you there will be. I’d like to host you, and make you feel at home.” But my main reason was to pay attention to their conversations and relationships, find their weaknesses, and point them out. Meanwhile, when I was alone at home, I would listen to Christian satellite programmes and sermons, looking to find fault with Christianity.

7. I watched carefully all the Christians who came to our home, but after some time I realised that I was the most sinful of all. I remember that a chapter from the Psalms – one of David’s prayers to God – was read out at one meeting, and I liked that David was able to talk directly to God, without a mediator, and I saw the difference compared to my own prayers in Islam, which had to be performed through intermediaries [imams].

8. At the same meeting, one of the Christians asked me: “Would you like us to pray for you?” Without really thinking about what I was saying, I answered: “Yes”. I am not someone who exaggerates their behaviour, so I tried to control my emotions during the prayer and not to show any emotional reaction, but I felt as though I had entered the presence of God and I couldn’t resist it. I fell onto my knees, and professed my faith in Christ. In this way, one year and two months after Elaheh, I also became a Christian.



9. On 28 May 2010, we filled a plastic pool with water, and our whole family was baptised by the leader of our church. House-church meetings and discipleship classes were held in our home, and Nasrin, Atena, and Sara led the meetings.

10. In 2012 we were invited to start leading the services, and my husband and I became responsible for teaching and pastoring several families. My daughter Arghavan was a Sunday-school teacher, and also responsible for worship and teaching several other women. Our church was growing, both in number and in maturity.

Arrest of church leaders

11. On 20 February 2013, a number of leaders of the house-churches we were connected to were arrested in Shahin Shahr [a city just to the north of Isfahan]. The security agents arrested them while they were worshipping and having fellowship at the home of Nasrin and her husband Ramin. While they were in prison, we drove around the building and prayed for them. We considered ourselves members of a spiritual family and didn’t want any harm to come to them. In addition, we didn’t want to break off our relationship with them, which was friendly and heartfelt.

12. In court four months later, the judge sentenced them to one year in prison [for “propaganda against the holy regime of the Islamic Republic, membership of groups opposed to the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran – through forming groups and recruiting members and coordinating with foreign elements to promote Zionist evangelical Christianity, which is not approved by the Iranian-Armenian community, as well as forming house-churches and meetings and providing unauthorised books and CDs in order to gain more members in line with opposition to the holy regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran”]. They appealed, but some of them felt they had no choice but to leave Iran, while others waited for the appeal court’s decision.

13. Shahin Shahr’s Ministry of Intelligence strictly monitored the homes of the Christians who had been arrested, so our house-church leaders, Atena and Sara, secretly met us in parks and other public places. We also continued to meet with some of our other Christian friends. The Ministry of Intelligence was monitoring our movements, but we were unaware.

Touraj arrested

14. A year later, on Tuesday 17 June 2014, Touraj went to work at 7am. Arghavan and Elina were still asleep in their room – Arghavan was a computer-science student and had an exam that day. I was preparing breakfast. At 7.30, someone rang the doorbell. I answered the intercom, and a man said: “Touraj Shirani’s [home]?” I said: “Yes”. He said: “It’s the postman. I’ve brought him a letter.” I wondered why the postman had brought a letter so early in the day.

15. We were on the first floor. I put on my chador [full-length Islamic covering], went down the stairs, and opened the door. A tall and muscular agent, wearing cargo trousers and a gilet, quickly put his foot inside the door and said: “We came from the court and have a warrant to search Touraj Shirani’s home.” I said: “My two daughters are sleeping; I can’t let you come and look inside my home! Also, you must show me a warrant to search this place.” He pushed the door hard against my chest and quickly showed me a crumpled sheet of paper with completely illegible writing and no sign of our names on it, and said: “Hurry up! Step aside!” I said: “My children are sleeping! They are in their pyjamas!” The agent said: “Run upstairs then! We will follow.” As I hurried up the stairs, I looked behind me and saw that there were four male agents in total. There was no female agent with them.

16. The four agents entered our home, and my daughter Arghavan asked me, with a shocked expression: “Mum, what happened?” I said: “People from the intelligence service have raided the apartment!” I quickly went to my room and wrapped some Bibles inside some clothes, and put them in the laundry basket in the bathroom. Arghavan also closed the door of her room under the pretext of changing out of her pyjamas. Actually, she had gone into the wardrobe and used her phone to inform Atena and her fiance, Farzad, about the arrival of the Ministry of Intelligence agents. One of the agents was standing outside the door of Arghavan’s room, and kept knocking on the door and shouting: “Hurry up! Be quick! Open the door!” Arghavan told him: “I haven’t put on my clothes yet!” And the agent said: “Hurry up then! Put them on faster!”

17. Another of the agents was talking loudly on a walkie-talkie in the corridor, letting someone know where they were and what they were doing. At that moment, Elina woke up at the sound of this agent’s voice. She was in her fourth year of primary school, just 10 years old, and was terrified and running around the room, shaking, crying and asking in a panic: “What happened? What has happened?” It was a very bad and painful scene. I hugged her to comfort her. One of the agents, seeing the scene, seemed to have some compassion, and said to Elina: “Don’t be afraid, it’s nothing; think of me as your uncle.”

18. But then they told the three of us to go into the lounge and sit in different corners and not talk to each other. The first agent who had met me at the door said to me in an aggressive tone: “Quickly, call Touraj!” So I called Touraj from the landline, but the agent didn’t allow me to speak. He snatched the phone from my hand and said: “Touraj Shirani? Come back home quickly! I am telling you to come back home quickly!” And then he hung up.


19. The day before this incident, Monday 16 June 2014, a number of boxes had been sent to us, containing Bibles and some DVDs showing the life of Jesus and other Christian teachings. I, along with my wife and my daughter’s fiance Farzad, who was also one of our church members, distributed the boxes among the other active church members that night.

20. I had retired, but I still did some work at a factory and I had gone to work that day in the company car. Suddenly, there was a call from my home number, and a man said: “Mr Shirani? Come back home quickly!” I was really shocked, but God gave me the strength to do what was needed.

21. I had two company phones with me and used one of them to call Atena, Sara and another of the ladies from our house-church, and also one of the church leaders in Isfahan. I told them in codewords: “An uninvited guest has come to our home.” I considered it my duty to inform them, because I didn’t want them to be harmed or arrested.

22. The car park under our apartment had two entrances, and my personal car was parked inside. I arrived home about 20 minutes after the agents had first arrived, and entered through the back entrance. As I was walking up the stairs I suddenly remembered to check in the boot of my car to see if there was anything incriminating there. I always locked my car, but that day the door was strangely open, and I opened the boot to find a box of Bibles and DVDs of the life of Jesus and other Christian teachings. So I quickly picked them up and moved them into the company car, which I’d parked in the back alley.

23. After this, I went back up the stairs to our apartment, and was suddenly met by two agents, one of whom stood in front of me and the other behind. “Touraj Shirani?” one of them asked. “Yes,” I said. He flashed a piece of paper in front of me for a few short moments, which had a small signature on it but no sign of my name, and said: “According to this warrant, we have permission to search your home. We have confiscated a series of items that we must take to the court, and a verdict will be issued based upon them.” They didn’t give any further explanation about any accusation I may face. Meanwhile, I was worried about my wife and children.

24. They asked for my car keys and mobile phone, so I handed them over. There were four agents in all. As one of the agents searched my car, I stood next to him. In the meantime, a young man dressed casually – with long hair and jeans – entered the car park and began to search my car, along with the other agent. I looked at his face and noticed his birthmark. I said to him: “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” He answered: “No, I have never seen you before.” But I remembered that about a month before, one of our church leaders had come to our home, and I had called a taxi, and a car without a taxi logo had come, and this agent was the driver of that car! I recognised him from the mark on his face. Of course I had called the taxi agency later that night and asked: “Why didn’t the car you sent have a taxi logo?” But the taxi manager had said on the phone: “There is no need to worry; we simply had too few cars and this gentleman is an acquaintance of ours.” It is crucial that Christians in Iran are made aware of the fact that many agents of the Ministry of Intelligence also work in taxi agencies.

25. I told him: “I remember now! I know you! You came that night as a taxi driver!” He replied, awkwardly: “No, you’re wrong.” But after that he went up the stairs, whispered something into the ear of one of the agents, and then he left and I never saw him again.

Home searched


26. The agents were shouting at us and saying that we weren’t allowed to even look at each other. They searched everywhere in our home, and took away Bibles, a children’s Bible, Christian books, notebooks, and even my notebook where I had written many poems. They also even took Elina’s cartoon DVDs, which had nothing to do with Christianity, along with memory cards, a family photo album, a painting of the Last Supper, a gold-framed picture of Jesus Christ, our [plastic] Christmas tree and Christmas-tree decorations, and even birthday decorations. They also took our satellite receiver, passports and IDs, mobile phones, and bank cards.

27. The gold-framed picture of Jesus was bought for me by my husband when I became a Christian, and I said to the agent: “We’re allowed to have this picture! We bought it from a shop in Iran!” The agent said: “No, it isn’t allowed! Anyway, do you think we should allow you [Christians] to have everything that is allowed in your home?” In addition, I had bought a book titled “Christian Encyclopedia” from Amadgah, a bookstore in Isfahan, which the agents also confiscated. I said to one of the agents: “This book was bought from a bookstore in Iran! Why are you taking it with you?” The agent said: “Shut up! I told you that you [Christians] are not permitted to have all the things that other people are allowed in their homes.”

28. Arghavan needed her laptop because she had to take an exam, but they also confiscated her laptop, as well as her desktop computer. But they didn’t see her phone, even though she had left it on the table, so they didn’t take that with them. One of the agents picked up Elina’s tablet and turned it on, and Elina trembled and said, with a lump in her throat: “My tablet! I play with it!” The agent checked the content and said: “We won’t take this,” but another agent said: “No, we have to take it as well because it is another item in this home.” But the agent who had checked the inside of the tablet said: “I looked inside; we don’t need to take it.”


29. They didn’t bring a female agent with them, but still allowed themselves to search through my wife and daughters’ clothes drawers! I got angry several times and said: “Either you bring a female agent, or you aren’t allowed to search our private things!” One of the agents allowed me to close my wife’s underwear drawer. They had opened our family photo album and were looking at our private photos in the middle of the room. I was very upset and angry, and thought to myself that if they put themselves in our shoes, how would they like it if someone else disrespected their privacy in this way!

30. They put the things that they were going to confiscate from our home into big bin bags. About 12 bags were filled in all. The photo frames alone were worth about 3 to 5 million tomans [$900-1,500], equivalent to three month’s salary, and the gold-framed picture was worth the most. We also had a tapestry of the “Last Supper”, which was handmade and very expensive, and I said to the agent: “Why are you taking this? This can be found in most homes!” The agent said: “It doesn’t matter what other people have in their homes; it shouldn’t be inside yours!” God gave me a special peace in those moments, but I was worried about my wife and daughters and the rest of our Christian friends, and I kept thinking that they must be kept from harm.


31. They took many things from our home. The agents had to come and go two or three times to take all the things they had put into the bins bags with them, and put them into their cars. Then they gave Touraj and me some papers to sign.

32. One of the agents said: “We have had mercy on you because of your children, and aren’t taking you away now; we are only taking Touraj. You should stay at home. You have no right to put one foot outside! We’ll call you later.” Elina was crying, and saying: “Don’t take my dad! Please don’t take my dad!” They lied to her: “Don’t worry, your father will return by evening.” It was around midday by the time they took Touraj and the items they had confiscated with them. They didn’t tell me where they were taking Touraj.

33. That evening, one of the neighbours told me: “There was a gentleman in the elevator, and he kept going up and down. He told me that he was an elevator repairman, but he wasn’t our regular repairman and didn’t have any repair tools in his hands. Maybe it was a thief!” I explained to the neighbour that we were Christians and that the man was from the Ministry of Intelligence. I realised then that the total number of agents was much more than four, and most likely there were many more agents around our apartment. For a long time before that day, we had noticed the presence of several unknown cars and people around our home, and sometimes when I talked to my mum I felt like our phone had been tapped.


34. A sweeper who had problems with his sight worked in our neighbourhood every other day, and I liked him and gave him a little something every time I saw him. Two days before my arrest, I had seen that there was a new person working in our neighbourhood, wearing what looked like a new uniform. I asked him where the usual sweeper was, and he replied: “He isn’t here. He has been transferred to another place.” But after I was released, I saw the old sweeper again and found out that he had been temporarily sent to another place and replaced by an agent of the Ministry of Intelligence! Then, after this agent had completed his mission, our usual sweeper returned. This is another of the ways the Ministry of Intelligence spies on Christians like us.

35. The agents of the Ministry of Intelligence had come with two metallic-grey-coloured Peugeot 405s and a white Samand. They blindfolded me and put me in one of the Peugeot 405s. Two agents sat in the front, and two others sat either side of me. The agent who had argued with me inside my house was in front, and he told me: “Mr Shirani, we are taking you somewhere. Aren’t you concerned? Don’t you want to say something?” I said: “I have nothing to say. Take me wherever you want to.”

36. After we had driven a little way, the same agent said: “I owe you and your family an apology. I’m sorry that we raided your home like this.” I said: “If you had a warrant, you did the right and legal thing. But if you didn’t have a warrant, you will have to answer to God.” The agent said: “I was just doing my job! Forgive us!” Then he continued: “Mr Shirani, I want to help you! When you get to where we’re taking you, express your regret and tell them you’re sorry and that you won’t do these things again. Save yourself and your family, who dealt with everything so calmly. Otherwise you’ll suffer a lot of harm. I can only give you this advice.” I said: “I accept with all my heart and soul whatever God has in store for me and my family. I have no problem with any of it.” He said: “We really don’t want to take you where we are taking you. We just want to take you to a quiet spot on the Zobahan Freeway [a main road south of Isfahan] and leave you there.”

37. In this difficult situation, I remembered a Christian worship song, “God is my rock”, and I repeated it in my mind and said to God: “God, you are the rock of my salvation. I want you to be the strength of my heart in these moments.” The agents seemed confused by my calmness and why I didn’t plead for my freedom. The agent in front said for a third time: “I’m really sorry that your child and wife were upset. Even now that we are taking you, you don’t show any anxiety about where we are taking you.” I told him: “I have peace inside. I know that everything will be fine.”

Dastgerd Prison

38. They took me to a section of Dastgerd Prison [located on the Zobahan Freeway] which I later found out was called the “Alef-Ta” detention centre and is run by the Ministry of Intelligence. The same agent who had spoken to me on the journey came to see me in my cell and said: “Mr Shirani, I am leaving. I’m just an agent. I hope you aren’t upset with me. I apologise.” I said: “You don’t need to apologise. I only have one request from you: allow me to make a phone call to my family.” He replied: “We’ll inform them.” I insisted: “No, I want to inform them myself.” About a minute later, he put a phone to my ear and said: “You can make a call.” So I called my wife and said: “I’m in Dastgerd Prison.” He quickly took the phone from me and didn’t allow me to continue talking. Then he said: “You weren’t supposed to say where you are! You should have just said that you are fine!” Apart from this call on that first day, I wasn’t allowed to call my family for the rest of my time in detention.

Interrogations and threats


39. After almost three hours, I was taken for questioning. In each of the four corners of the room, there were rotating cameras that filmed all the interrogations. My interrogator introduced himself as “Qanei”. He insulted me a lot and tried to break me with his words and threats. He talked about both Islam and Christianity, and said: “You should write down all the information you have [about your house-church and its members].” The first interrogation lasted about three hours, then on the second day I was taken to a place for fingerprinting and mugshots, and then returned to the Alef-Ta ward.

40. During my first three interrogations I was blindfolded and couldn’t see Qanei. But during the fourth interrogation, which lasted from 12.30 at night until the morning call to prayer [just before first light], Qanei placed a sheet of paper in front of me and told me: “Write! Write everything you remember and know!” He kept leaving the room and then coming back and saying the same thing again. I wrote down the aliases of some people that I knew, and also the names of my friends from school. He slapped me hard across my mouth, and said: “You donkey! Do you think I don’t know who you are working with, and whose subordinate you are?” He specifically mentioned Pastor Edward [Hovsepian, the leader of an Iranian church in London and brother of murdered pastor Haik Hovsepian] and many other Christians in our house-church, and told me to write about them.

41. He said: “You collect money and send it to them, and they enjoy their lives on the other side of the world! Your leaders are part of Zionist groups. They are Israelis! they are Jews! You should also get out of this country! Iran belongs to Basijis [supporters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], not to rubbish like you! Aren’t you ashamed at becoming a Christian at your age?” In response, I said to him: “Until this age I thought that I had lived, but I didn’t know the purpose of my life. Now I have a purpose in my life, and I have found the meaning of life in Christianity.” I added: “Whatever I may be, I am not rubbish! Don’t say that to me! I have given a lot for this country!” After that he asked me to remove my blindfold, and sat across from me.

42. He knew several people with the last name of Shirani who were part of the [outlawed dissident group] People’s Mojahedin. “Do you know them?” he said. I didn’t, but he wanted to associate me being a Christian with them being with the People’s Mojahedin. He even lied that my wife had confessed that I was part of the group.

43. He threatened to harm my family if I didn’t cooperate. I prayed during every moment of my interrogations, and asked God to help me not to be in a situation where I had to make a forced confession or write a letter of repentance. From the adjacent rooms, I could hear moaning, screaming and other sounds of people being tortured. Qanei said: “Write down the names of everyone you know. Otherwise, we’ll bring your wife and unmarried daughter [Arghavan] here and do everything to them that we are capable of! If you love them, you should cooperate with us.” Once, he even took me to a cell where about 15 dangerous criminals were kept, and said: “We’ll bring your daughter here to be raped!” I cried a lot and couldn’t bring myself to even contemplate such a thing happening. It was a very difficult situation, and I was constantly thinking of my family. I said to myself: “These prisoners committed murder, did many wrong things. There is also a possibility that the interrogator will really bring my wife and children, and it isn’t clear what will happen to them. Anything could happen! Are you willing to suffer that much for Christ?” I was ready to be physically tortured, but not for these threats against my family.

44. I was worried about my wife and children, and didn’t know what harm they would do to them. As a result, I found it difficult to eat. Until this very moment, I have never even told my wife about these threats; I endured a lot of mental pressure during those days.


45. Ever since my husband’s release, he has sometimes been restless in his sleep, and sometimes screams. But until today, I have never seen my husband cry so much as he is now, talking about these threats against me and my children, which he has never told me about before.

Touraj’s cell


46. My cell was very small: about one and a half by two square metres. The toilet in the cell was very dirty. There was a simple water pipe above the toilet, but it only gave out cold water. A 30cm-high wall separated the toilet from the rest of the cell, but as I slept my head was right next to the toilet. During the times I had to share my cell with another prisoner, if one of us wanted to take a shower, the other had to stand up so the water wouldn’t fall onto his head.

47. There was a carpet in the cell, and that was what I had to sleep on. They gave me three blankets, but they were so dirty that I preferred to use my shoes as a pillow. On the second day of my detention I cleaned the toilet with water, as there was no cleaning fluid, but it didn’t help. The environment was very unsanitary. I was still in the clothes they had arrested me in, and wasn’t ever given any new clothes, nor were my family allowed to bring me any. The food quality in the detention centre was also very poor. The cell had a small window, and sometimes a bird came near the window and I saw it as a symbol of the Holy Spirit through which God was strengthening me and reminding me that He was with me.

48. During my detention, three times different prisoners were put in the same cell as me, and it made the conditions even more difficult. We fell asleep with difficulty. The first joined me a few days after my arrest. Two of them were with me for just one day and night each, and the third was with me for two days.

49. The first of my cellmates was very strongly built. He only wore his underwear, and his whole body was tattooed. He told me he had killed several people, and he was very angry and couldn’t sleep at night. He had a severe headache and banged his head against the wall, shouted, and banged on the cell door. The door opened, and five officers severely beat him in the corridor, then sent him back into the cell. I think the officers wanted to scare me, and that’s why they put him in my cell.

50. I prayed for him and asked him if he would like to have some breakfast. Then I told him: “I want to say a few things, and you can rest. Would you like me to pray for you?” He said: “Yeah.” I prayed for him in my heart, and then he fell asleep and rested peacefully until noon.

51. The second detainee who shared my cell with me was a mullah named Mr Mousavi, who had embezzled funds. He was brought into the cell in his religious garments and was treated more respectfully. Whenever he knocked on the door and wanted to go to the pharmacy, for example, they would take him and bring him back. He bought some strong painkillers from the pharmacy, took them, and then offered them to me, but I didn’t accept them. He prayed and recited the Quran, and I prayed and sang Christian worship songs in my heart. Mr Mousavi had lost one of his hands, so I helped him with various tasks, such as washing his clothes, and even his underwear. Once, he said to me: “Why did you go and become a Christian, when you could have remained a Muslim?” I asked him if he had found peace by reading the Quran. Hearing this question, he started to cry, and I told him about my own experiences with Christianity.

52. The third detainee who was in the same cell with me was there on the charge of smuggling weapons. He had imported about 20 weapons from the border of Kurdistan and had been arrested. His brother was the driver and had confessed to the crime so that his brother – my cellmate – would be released. He said: “My crime is smuggling weapons. If I pay about 6 or 7 million tomans [approx. $1,800 or 2,200], I’ll be released. But you became a Christian – your sentence will be death – so why are you so calm?” I explained to him that my peace came from my faith in Christ, and then I prayed for him and said that I hoped his case would go well. He hugged me, and then he cried for a while and I comforted him. I was happy to have talked to three prisoners about my Christian faith in that short time.

More interrogations and threats

53. At the same time as me, another Christian friend of ours from our house-church was also arrested. Interrogator Qanei told me: “Ali* has confessed everything. He gave us all the information, so why don’t you just talk? We know that your wife went to a conference without you. You are so uncaring that you let her go all that way without you!” He threatened and insulted me a lot.

54. During each interrogation, he would put several sheets of paper on the table and say: “Write down everything you know, who you know, who you are in contact with, where you went to school, what phone numbers you memorised, who evangelised to you, what days your church meetings took place, to whom you gave your tithes,” and so on. I said: “According to the teachings we have received, we helped the needy and the poor every month.” He said: “You ignorant person! They tell you that your tithes will pay for books and CDs, but they pay for your pastor’s costs abroad, and anti-regime activities!” Qanei tried everything to make me doubt our supervisor [Pastor Edward], and discredit him.

55. It was very strange to me that the interrogator also knew the name of the first Christian who was in contact with us. Apparently he had complete information about him. He had also learned from somewhere who had baptised us, and where. However, I gave only general, non-specific answers to his questions.

56. The interrogator asked me about Christianity and said: “Write down what you know about Christianity and who Christ is. Write how you became a Christian and why you insist so much to remain a Christian and destroy yourself and your family because of something that is a lie! You must accept that Prophet Muhammad is superior!” Then he started insulting the Bible and questioning some verses. But I defended the Bible and countered everything he said. He knew a lot of things about the Bible, but nothing he said could persuade me to give up my Christian faith. He said: “I have to send you somewhere to talk to one or two other people [about Islam]. Then you’ll understand what a big mistake you made. It is a shameful path that you have chosen and insist on continuing on.”

57. One of the hardest days of my life was about the fourth or fifth day of my detention, when I was asked to get ready to go to court. They blindfolded me, put handcuffs on my hands, and shackles on my legs. They treated me as if I were a dangerous criminal, and with the shackles and chains on it was very difficult to walk; I could only take short steps.

58. They took me down the stairs and into the courtyard. The officer with me said to another officer: “Let him stay here and see what happens here with his own eyes.” So the officer removed my blindfold, and I saw a person standing in the courtyard, and around 10 to 15 members of his family sitting next to him, kissing him and weeping. I asked: “Why are they crying?” and the officer came close to my ear and said: “This will also be your fate. This prisoner is going to be executed tomorrow at 5.30am. This is his final meeting with his family before his execution. We will make the same visitors’ appointment for you.” The whole scene, as well as the officer’s words, really shook me, and I cried a lot. The officer said: “OK, let’s not take him to court today after all.” Actually, I think they never wanted to take me to court in the first place; they just wanted me to see this other prisoner’s final farewell to his family, to weaken my spirits and scare me.


59. The next day I was taken, handcuffed and shackled, to the court and made to wait in a queue behind other prisoners. The judge read out each prisoner’s charges, one by one. Most of them were there for drug trafficking and were surprised when they found out about my accusation and asked: “Is it also a crime to be Christian?”

60. They didn’t tell me the name of the judge, but he told me: “Your accusation is propaganda against the regime, participating in evangelistic Christian meetings, using satellite receivers, and even having misleading books towards other religions! Do you accept these charges?” I said: “I accept that I am a Christian.” He asked: “Do you have anything else to say?” I said: “I have a few questions. I want to ask if you think Muhammad is the last prophet? He said: “Yes.” I said: “And Islam is the highest religion?” Again, he said: “Yes.” I said: “And the Quran is the last book [from God]?” He said: “Yes. What are you trying to say?” I said: “I want to understand why it is that you are afraid of me, an ordinary person, if you believe your faith is superior to all others?” He replied: “You talk a lot! Get out of this court!”

61. That same day, my wife Elaheh was brought to Alef-Ta for questioning.

Ministry of Intelligence 113


62. Ever since they arrested Touraj, the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence had been following us, and they wanted us to see them, to create fear in us. Elina was especially anxious about it, and when I took her to my mother’s house, which was two streets away, two people would follow behind us.

63. We lived in the “Isfahan House” neighbourhood of the city, and it was the time of Arghavan’s university exams. I used to drive her to Isfahan University and wait for her, and they would follow us in a private car and look at me in an extremely threatening way as I waited for Arghavan. They also followed us on the way back home.

64. At the university, the security [intelligence] office there kept an eye on Arghavan and summoned her, warning her that she should “know that we are watching and monitoring you”.

65. My husband was arrested on a Tuesday. On the Friday of that week, Arghavan said: “Mum, someone is calling me from a private number and said ‘I want to talk with Elaheh Kiani’.” I took the phone and the person on the other side of the line said: “I’m calling from 113 [the number of the Intelligence Ministry]. Are you of sound mind?” I said: “Yes.” He said: “No! That is not true! You are crazy and unwell!” He had an Isfahani accent and insulted me a lot. He said: “If you were well, you wouldn’t write so much about Jesus, you miserable person! If you had written so many things in your notebooks – which you have now desecrated – about Islam and the Prophet, you would now be a mujtahid [recognised Muslim scholar]! Why do you seduce people? Why did you call so and so? You are seducing a bunch of uneducated people! You wouldn’t dare to say these things to educated people, because they wouldn’t buy your words! I don’t ever again want to see you say and write this nonsense that ‘our God is everywhere and alive’. Your Christ died on the Cross! He was a prophet, and that’s it!” The person he mentioned was a member of our house-church, who I had been teaching about Christianity. I told the caller: “I didn’t seduce anyone! That person is my friend! You have no right to insult Christianity!” Then I continued: “It’s true that Christ died on the Cross, but after three days he rose again!” He apparently didn’t expect me to defend my faith, and said: “Why won’t you come back to your senses! You won’t listen to reason! Give the phone to Arghavan!”

66. I was worried that Arghavan’s education might be impacted because she was studying in a public university [over which the authorities have more control]. The intelligence agent said to Arghavan: “I know your mother seduced you and her sisters, but I know you are an educated person. Tell me, is what your mother said true or not?” Arghavan said frankly: “Yes, what my mother said is true. Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins.” The interrogator, suddenly seeming to be worried, asked: “Are you recording my voice?” Arghavan said: “No.” And he said: “Your mother won’t come to her senses! Tomorrow morning at 8.30, she has to come to Alef-Ta so we can take care of her!” Before hanging up, he threatened us. Then my mother and sister, as well as my husband’s mother, said: “We won’t let you go alone. We’ll come with you.”

67. So on 21 June 2014, which was a Saturday, together with my sister, mother and mother-in-law, we took a taxi and went to Dastgerd Prison. The secretary said: “You have to show an ID card.” I said: “All our documents were taken by the Ministry of Intelligence. They themselves wanted me to come here!” The secretary called Alef-Ta ward, and they ordered that I be sent in immediately.

68. The secretary gave me a chador to wear, and said: “The Alef-Ta ward is a hidden place, so you have to pass through an isolated area to get there. Then there is a staircase that leads to a large iron door. They’ll open the door for you there.” I was sent with a soldier, but after we came to the isolated area, the soldier wasn’t allowed to come any further. So I went up the narrow staircase alone and reached a corridor where a man was standing. He said: “Who are you and what do you want here?” With fear and trembling, I said: “I am Elaheh Kiani. A man named Qanei told me to come here.” The man told me to sit on the chair that was there.

69. I sat alone on the chair for about 30 minutes, and then Qanei arrived. I wasn’t blindfolded, but Qanei told me that I was not allowed to look behind me and see his face when he was talking. He placed a sheet of paper in front of me, which had questions regarding my personal details, and asked me to fill it in. I wrote “Christianity” in the religion section, and he pulled the sheet from under my hand and said: “Like you, Sara and Samira [Atena] also put on a brave face when they were here, and sat right here and wrote down these same things. You miserable people! You aren’t Christians! Were your parents Christians?” He said other similar things and in this way insulted our Christian faith a lot.

70. On some other sheets of paper, Qanei would write questions and tell me I had to answer them. He asked me who told me about Christianity, and I wrote: “I heard about Christianity through Christian satellite programmes. My daughter was sick, they prayed for her, and God performed a miracle and my daughter was cured.” He said: “Yes, you all tell these lies! Which programme? What cure? Doesn’t Imam Reza [a significant figure in Shia Islam] also heal?” I said: “My daughter was healed by Jesus Christ, and I am committed to Jesus Christ.”

71. The interrogator mocked and ridiculed the other Christians we were in contact with. I replied: “We don’t look to other people to follow their example. We look to Jesus Christ.” He asked again: “You went to Dubai on this certain date. What did you go for?” I said: “I went there just for fun and to go shopping.” He said: “We know you went there for a seminar! Don’t fool around with us! Write down the names of the people who were there, and write how much money and what gifts they gave you.” I just wrote down some made-up names, and insisted: “They didn’t give us any money or gifts!”

72. He asked about our friends Ramin and Nasrin, Sara and Samira [Atena], and said: “We know that these are your leaders. What did you do when you met together?” I said: “We prayed and worshipped together.” My answer just angered him even more, and he said: “That is forbidden for you! Do you understand? The regime of the Islamic Republic is a regime based on Islam, and Christianity has no place here. You cannot leave Islam!” He then started to talk about how Christianity and Christians were a threat to the Islamic regime, but I told him: “Christians have never acted against you or your regime.” He replied: “The blow that Haik [Hovsepian] and Christianity struck against the root of Islam [in Iran] wasn’t done by anyone else!” This all happened a long time ago now, but I still don’t understand why they are afraid of us Christians.

73. I had a notebook in which I listed things that I wanted to pray about, and this was one of the items the agents confiscated on the day of Touraj’s arrest. Every Monday, I prayed for the country’s officials, and I had written down that I was praying for them in my notebook. Qanei told me: “I don’t believe you prayed for us! I think really you were cursing us!” I felt sorry that he couldn’t even believe that we prayed for them.

74. He tried to suggest that my husband and I had been involved in anti-regime activities, but I said: “I don’t accept this charge at all!” He said: “Which other members of your family are Christians?” I said that I had told everyone in my family about Christianity, and he told me to write down the details of all my family members, and also the schools that I had attended as a child. He also asked me which Christian satellite channels I had watched, and I listed most of the ones I knew. He threatened me: “You must commit to no longer watch these programmes! They mislead you! And you have no right to talk about Christianity with anyone!”

75. Qanei didn’t beat me, but he psychologically tortured me a lot with his threats. He said, with a contemptuous and threatening tone: “The path you have chosen will end up making your children miserable! Don’t make these two poor children miserable. Come to your senses just a little! Look what you are doing! They will end up here as well. Will you like it when we bring them here?” In the end, he made me sign a commitment not to participate in any more Christian meetings, but I emphasised that “I am a Christian and I won’t abandon my Christian faith”.

76. Finally, he told me to turn around, and as I did so I saw that Touraj was behind me! He was blindfolded, so he couldn’t see me, but I jumped to my feet and kissed him, and we cried together. We were very happy that after a few days we had been able to meet each other again, even briefly, and to learn about each other’s well-being. It was at that moment that I saw Qanei’s face for the first time, and he again told us to “stop these things!”


77. That day, they had taken me out of my cell, blindfolded, and made me stand somewhere, and from that place I could hear Qanei’s conversation with Elaheh. He was shouting at her that “It’s your own fault you are here! You wanted us to bring you here!” I was upset and worried about my wife. Finally, Qanei came to me and said: “As you can see, we brought Elaheh here. Be careful, otherwise we’ll bring your whole family here next time!” Then he allowed me to have a very short meeting with Elaheh, and she told me that during the days I had been in detention, she and my mother-in-law, as well as my own mother, had been under a lot of pressure.


78. My mother, sister and mother-in-law were growing increasingly worried about me, and the secretary said to them: “On your behalf, I’ll regularly call the Alef-Ta department, to ask them if they can finish her interrogation more quickly.” Qanei said to me: “Why did you bring so many people with you? You brought an army with you!” I said: “They came by themselves.” He said: “The court is open until 4pm, so go there now and prepare the documents for your husband’s bail.” In total, my interrogation lasted from 9am to 12.30pm.

Isfahan Revolutionary Court

79. My mother didn’t feel well, so my sister took her home in a taxi, while my mother-in-law and I went to Branch 19 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court. Outside the judge’s room, the clerk asked us: “How many drugs did your husband move?” We were surprised, and said: “He hasn’t moved any drugs! His charge is related to Christianity!” It was then that we understood that the Alef-Ta ward is for prisoners who have committed serious crimes, such as drug trafficking.

80. When we went into the judge’s room, without introducing himself, the judge, who was short in stature, asked us: “Why are you here?” We said: “To pursue the case of Touraj Shirani.” He told us to leave the room, called someone, and then called us to come back inside again. When we re-entered, he showed us a thick file and asked about our relationship with Touraj. Then he said: “Touraj is a criminal! Anti-regime! A rioter! He has disturbed public order!” And other things like this. My husband’s mother cried and said: “No! In God’s name, my son is a very good boy! He has never been involved in any of those kinds of things!” The judge said: “Look at this thick file! It’s your son’s! Go and pray he won’t be executed!” I just stood there silently in shock and stared at the judge. My husband’s mother said: “Mr Qanei sent us to you. Tell us what we should do!” The judge said: “His case is very voluminous. Go and come back tomorrow at 8am.”

Bail and temporary release

81. So at 8am the next day, my husband’s mother and I went back to the court. There were many prisoners there, so we had to wait a long time, and it was very hard. Every time I asked the secretary if it was our turn, the answer was: “No! Sit down and wait!” I was sure they were making us wait deliberately. It was 1 or 1.30 in the afternoon by the time we were called into the judge’s room. “Touraj’s case is very serious,” he said. “You and he are anti-regime and anti-Islam! I don’t know what Mr Qanei was thinking when he said you could post bail for Touraj. Your husband has to stay in prison!” My husband’s mother cried a lot until finally the judge agreed to let her go and deposit bail of 200 million tomans [equivalent to $62,500] to cover the charge of “propaganda against the regime by participating in evangelical Christianity meetings”, and a guarantor for a 2-million-toman [$625] fine for possession of a satellite receiver. I was very surprised to hear such a large bail amount [equivalent to nearly 15 times the average annual salary at the time], and everyone who heard the amount assumed my husband was about to be executed. I asked my brother to submit their property deed, which was in the name of his wife, as bail for my husband.

82. So the next day, with my brother’s wife and my mother-in-law, we went to the relevant authorities to post bail, but they messed us around a lot. We had been told to get there early in the morning, only for the end of the day to come and them to tell us: “We don’t have enough time now.” Another day passed in the same way, at the end of which they told my husband’s mother: “Haj Khanoom [a respectful term for an older Muslim woman], don’t come here again. Let Touraj’s wife come and go on her own!” But my husband’s mother said: “No, I’ll go with my daughter-in-law wherever she goes.”


83. Elaheh had been allowed to seek bail for my temporary release, so after that meeting with my wife, I was waiting for my release. But by the sixth or seventh day of my detention, I had begun to lose hope. It was at this moment that I suddenly noticed some of the things that had been written on the wall of my cell by previous Christian prisoners. Sentences like: “He who promised is faithful” [Hebrews 10:23], and “Rejoice! And I will say it again: rejoice!” [Philippians 4:4]. Seeing these verses strengthened me. I had brought a pen with me from the interrogation room, so I also drew a cross on the wall and wrote some more encouraging verses from the Bible.

84. I was detained for eight days in total, and they took me for interrogations every day at around 3 or 4 in the afternoon and every night at around 11 or 12pm until 2 or 3 in the morning. Sometimes, they also interrogated me at 5 in the morning. In total, I was taken for interrogation more than a dozen times, and each interrogation lasted more than two hours. During my final interrogation, Qanei said: “If I ever see you with Christians again, not only will your bail be forfeited, but the names of you and your family will be forgotten!” He made many terrible threats.


85. In the end, we had to go from court to court from the Saturday of that week until the following Tuesday, until finally all the paperwork for Touraj’s bail was completed. We thought he would be released the next day, so we went to Dastgerd Prison and looked on the list of prisoners about to be released, but he and Ali’s names weren’t there so we returned home in tears. But later that day, at around 6pm, they called us and said: “The bails have been processed. Touraj and his friend are free to leave.” I drove to pick them up. The date of their temporary release was 25 June 2014.

86. Throughout Touraj’s detention, as well as after his release, our church leaders stayed in contact with us. We prayed and chatted together online, and they were very supportive. We know that many other people also prayed for my husband and Ali, and that several Christian organisations, though I won’t mention them by name, followed up on our case.

After temporary release

87. After Touraj’s release, they [intelligence agents]  still followed us, and Qanei regularly called our home from an unknown number. Every time he called, we trembled with fear and sadness. And he always asked the same questions, like: “Have you been in contact with anyone?” And “Which of the Christians have you seen?” He told us: “We are watching you! Do you really want to give your daughter to Farzad? This boy is a Christian! It will end badly for you! Keep yourselves to yourselves and don’t cause trouble! If you want to go on living in this country, live your lives quietly!”


88. Qanei called several times, though he only ever introduced himself as “an agent of the Ministry of Intelligence”. He summoned Ali and me to the 113 Central Intelligence Office and other places. One of these places was an ordinary house which had no sign indicating that it belonged to the Ministry of Intelligence. Qanei told us: “You must give me all the information you have about Christians! Know that from now on you have a difficult court trial ahead of you!” And after many other threats, he tried to coax us into working for him.

89. During one of our meetings, Qanei told me: “I can completely free you and your family, and we won’t bother you again, but to ensure this I want something from you. You can continue to go to your Christian groups, but every time I call you, you must tell me what you are doing, where you are, and who you’re with,” etc. He wanted us to be his spies in the house-churches.

90. Apart from being summoned for those informal interrogations, Qanei also called me regularly and kept asking the same questions every time. Once, he tried to persuade me to leave Iran, and said: “Don’t you want to leave Iran? You are of no use to this country! The best thing is for you to leave Iran of your own volition.”

91. About six to seven months after my temporary release, I was summoned to pick up our confiscated items. They returned our laptop and desktop computers, passports, two hard drives, which had been wiped, and our mobile phones, but our other confiscated belongings were not returned. There was a problem with the laptop and desktop computers – they had infected the hard drives with viruses – and our mobile phones had also been tapped.

92. One of the major challenges we endured as a family after my release was the fact they kept following us, and even installed a listening device in our house. We were talking once, when one of my daughters asked, sadly: “Why won’t they just leave us alone?” That very moment, the Ministry of Intelligence called us and said: “Shut up!” Then they repeated to me what they had heard.

93. Whenever we went out, I glued a piece of thread behind our door, and every time we came back the thread had been broken, and the agents’ shoeprints were clearly visible, so it was obvious they had entered our home. Meanwhile, a Samand car was always in our street, and the driver kept talking to people on his walkie-talkie. We didn’t organise church meetings at our home during that time.

94. The Ministry of Intelligence had also called my workplace and threatened them, so I was fired from my job, and wasn’t even paid the salary or pension due to me.

95. During this time, due to our stressful situation, Arghavan didn’t feel able to take two of her university exams. Elina was also emotionally very damaged. She was very scared, so we always had to take her to school and pick her up again. Our relationships with our friends and relatives were also greatly damaged. Our relatives reduced their contact with us, and in some cases cut off all contact. So, all in all, we endured a great deal of pressure.

96. We were also very upset that we couldn’t connect with other Christians because we were under surveillance. We prayed about it, and after some time we decided to continue our Christian activities in a different and safer way. We started going to the suburbs of Isfahan and visiting one of the families from our house-church each day. In the summer we would meet in a park, and in the winter we would turn on the heater in our car and meet there. But we always took precautions, for example by taking food with us to make it look like an ordinary family picnic – though our intention was to talk about Christianity – and never taking Bibles with us.


97. A year after Touraj and Ali’s temporary release, we were still waiting for the trial to take place. We had followed up the case repeatedly, but still had not been sent any summons to court. Living in this state of uncertainty was difficult, and at the same time my brother and his wife were worried about their property deed, which they had submitted for Touraj’s bail at my request. They asked us if we might be able to get it released or replace it with another document, so Touraj called the number that Qanei had given him and complained about the delay in the court proceedings, and said we wanted to submit another document for the bail. Qanei told us to take it up with the court, but the court just told us it would be dealt with in time.



98. After our temporary release, Ali and I had followed up on our case every couple of months and had looked for a lawyer, but no-one was willing to represent us due to the nature of our charges.

99. About a week before we finally received our summons to court, we went to the prosecutor’s office to pursue our case again and they told us to come back the next day between 2 and 4pm so the prosecutor could explain the situation to us. But then they led us to Room 14, and the prosecutor, whose name we never learned, told us very clearly: “You are apostates, and you must leave this path!” We simply answered: “We aren’t ready to leave this path.”

100. After hearing our answer, the prosecutor picked up the phone and made two phone calls. During one of them, he said: “Yes, Haji [someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca], you’re right! The verdict is that they are apostates!” And other things like that. Then he told us: “You are apostates! Either turn away from Christianity, or sign here.” On top of the sheet, which had our personal details on, was written: “Crime: Apostasy”. The prosecutor said: “You are apostates, so there is just one sentence for you [the implication is execution] and you should be returned to the Alef-Ta ward.” We stood our ground, and said: “We are Christians, and we won’t leave Christianity.” Then we signed the bottom of the piece of paper.

101. After insulting us a lot, he called for two officers to come to take us to a room and detain us. This was completely illegal. We were kept in that detention room for the rest of that morning, all the way until 4pm. Then the prosecutor came and said: “I have already discussed everything with you. You are apostates, so it is clear what your verdict will be! It has already been decided! You will be informed about it later.”

102. A week later – on a Wednesday – they sent Ali and me, and those who had posted bail for us, a text message saying: “Be at the Revolutionary Court tomorrow morning at 8am.”


103. This message came about 18 months after Touraj’s temporary release, and it was also sent to my brother’s wife, as she had deposited his bail. The message stated that if Touraj and Ali did not appear at the court, their bails would be forfeited. My brother’s wife was very scared.


104. From the time of our temporary release, until that day, every Wednesday we had prayed for the outcome of our trial with our house-church leaders, Atena, Sara, and Leila. We also prayed together on that Wednesday, and though courts are usually closed on Thursdays, we were surprised to learn that our court hearing was scheduled for that Thursday.

105. So that Thursday, in early 2016, we went to Branch 19 of the Isfahan General Court of Justice. The court was quiet; not many people were there. Even the security guard said: “The court is closed today; no-one is here. Why did you come?” We showed him the summons message that had been sent to us. Then he called someone, and finally let us go up. That day, my eyes had an infection and I could hardly open them, so Arghavan took my hand and led me inside the court.

106. Between 11 and 11.30, the judge called for us to come, so we went into his room. The name of the judge was Mr Ahmad Ganjali, a strongly built man, who as we entered was looking through our case file. Ali and I held each other’s hands, our heads bowed, and prayed silently together for the judge, and whispered to each other: “We’ll accept whatever he decides.”

107. The judge kept shaking his head and saying: “Wow! Oh, wow! There is also the charge of apostasy! The Intelligence Ministry has suggested a two-year sentence, but you will have to go to prison for five more years because of the things you have done! So what do you want to do? If you sign a commitment for me today, I might be able to come to another verdict, though I don’t know why it is in my heart to save you from the lion’s mouth!” We were surprised by this statement, but answered clearly that “we cannot sign the commitment you want [to turn away from our faith]”. The judge told us: “I’ll give you five to 10 minutes to think about it. If you don’t make a commitment, I’ll send you to the Alef-Ta ward in Dastgerd Prison in Isfahan, and implement the full sentence as it is written here.” We asked for time to talk, then went into the corridor. After consulting together, we decided to first speak to our families, and explained the situation to our wives. Elaheh told me: “Touraj, I don’t know what you plan to do, but you mustn’t abandon your Christian faith. Stand by it.”


108. I said to Touraj: “Going to prison is much better than pledging that you are no longer a Christian, and saying the shahada [Islamic statement of faith] and becoming a Muslim.”


109. My wife and I prayed together, and then I told Ali: “If at any point he asks us to confess our faith in Islam and renounce our Christian faith, I’ll tear up my paper.” He said he would do the same. Then my friend and I returned to the judge’s room, and the judge said: “Take a piece of paper, and write down what I tell you to.”

110. The judge asked us to write down our personal details first, and then to add: “We pledge not to force anyone to convert to Christianity.” My friend and I looked at each other with a look that said we would be glad to write this because we had never forced anyone to become a Christian. The judge paused in response and said: “Wait!” He was clearly thinking, and we thought to ourselves: “Now he’ll say something that will make us tear up our papers!” We were praying for the judge in our hearts, and after a moment’s pause, he said: “Pledge not to participate in meetings where you will be taught about Christianity! Then sign that paper and give it to me.” We both wrote down this commitment and then signed the papers, and the judge asked us to stand outside until he called for us.

111. The judge gave us fines for possession of satellite receivers, and said: “Pay these fines, and then I can release your bails. He had given us fines of 400,000 tomans [approx. $125] for me and 2.4 million tomans [approx. $750] for Ali for “possessing satellite receivers and contact with foreigners”. We were in prison for eight days and therefore, as is customary, 35 thousand tomans [approx. $10] was deducted from our fines for each day of our detention.

112. After the court session, Ali and I went back to the judge’s room. We wanted to thank him, and he told us: “I don’t know why, but it was on my heart to save you from the mouth of the lion and the belly of the whale, and to pull you out! I have been a judge for 20 years, so I have been doing this a very long time and know that later on I’ll be reprimanded for these sentences that I issued for you. I dismissed the charges against you relating to your evangelical Christian activities. I did this for you, but you must know that the Intelligence Ministry won’t let you go so easily!” But another of the judge’s sentences was very similar to what Qanei had said: “You are uneducated people, and it is for this reason that you committed these acts. If you were educated, you wouldn’t do these things!”

113. The next day was a Friday [a day off], so we had to  wait until the Saturday to pay the remaining fines that were due, and then our bails were released.

Fleeing Iran

114. A few months later, a group of Christians in Baharestan, [south of] Isfahan, were arrested, and Farzad’s phone number was among their contacts list, so they summoned him. Then, when he answered the summons, they saw my phone number among his contacts, and he was asked: “Do you know Touraj Shirani?” He answered: “Of course, he’s my wife’s father [Farzad and Arghavan were married in 2015]!” We knew they would try to link us to the group they had arrested, and I had pledged not to associate with other Christians or I would have to go to prison for those seven years [five from the judge and two from the Ministry of Intelligence] in addition to any new sentence.

115. They called us and Farzad’s mother regularly. I didn’t answer their calls, and Farzad’s mother told them she didn’t have any information about her son. The situation felt very precarious, and we decided to flee Iran. We took only a few suitcases with us, and on 22 July 2016 we left our home behind, with all our belongings still inside.

Impact of persecution

116. One person may be in prison for one day, and another person for years, but both experience trauma – to different degrees. It’s true that I was detained for only eight days, but I suffered many psychological blows. Qanei wanted to break me with his threats, and by insulting my family. If someone destroyed my car or home, I might be upset, but these things can be replaced. On the other side, these government institutions put us under a lot of pressure and restrictions with their threats. We had friendly relationships with other Christians, and helped them. But after the persecution that happened to us, we couldn’t meet them. Qanei knew that physical torture would have no impact upon me and would be forgotten over time. For this reason, he instead tried to harm my soul and spirit.

117. Three years after claiming asylum in Turkey, one day we held a worship meeting in our home and afterwards one of my daughters asked me: “Dad, why did you keep looking through the spyhole in the door?” It made me realise that I had been doing this subconsciously and was still afraid agents might enter our home again. Everything we went through also affected my wife and daughters. When the agents entered our home, Elina was sleeping, and their sudden arrival and my arrest caused her to suffer from anxiety disorders and depression for a long time, even after we left Iran. If I didn’t answer my phone, or came home late, the whole family, especially Elina, would be afraid the Ministry of Intelligence might have harmed me. When I had been in Alef-Ta, they had threatened me and my family a lot, so I also continued to be worried about them and to act differently due to the threats that had been made against them. For example, when Arghavan and Farzad were still just engaged, I was very strict about the times of day she could go out, and wouldn’t allow her to return home later than 10pm.

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