Witness Statements

Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi

Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi

Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, an Iranian convert to Christianity, was sentenced to four years in prison in July 2017 for his religious activities.

He was sentenced alongside two fellow converts – Hadi Asgari, who received the same sentence, and Amin Afshar-Naderi, who was given an additional five years for “blasphemy” – and his Assyrian pastor, Victor Bet-Tamraz, who also received a ten-year sentence.

Kavian fled Iran while on bail, and has now spoken about his experiences to Didgahnow, a political institute focusing on Iran and the Middle East. Below is a translation of his interview, which was conducted in Farsi.

Please can you tell us about your arrest, and the reason given?

I was arrested alongside Amin Afshar-Naderi and Rev. Victor Bet-Tamraz at a Christmas celebration on 26 December 2014 at pastor Victor’s house in Tehran, where we had gathered for prayer and worship.

The arresting agents from the Ministry of Intelligence told us we were being charged with “holding an illegal meeting”.

A number of other Christians were also there, including pastor Victor’s wife, Shamiram, and son, Ramiel. These Christians were also interrogated on camera for several hours, and made to fill out forms; then they were released.

The plainclothes intelligence agents, who were armed, seized all the personal records of pastor Victor and his family, along with their mobile phones, laptop computers and bank details, and documents relating to their relatives. Also, they seized more than a thousand books belonging to him.

After being arrested, were you taken to the Ministry of Intelligence detention centre?

Pastor Victor was taken to Ward 209 of Evin Prison that night, while Amin and I were taken to the Ministry of Intelligence Office, and then at midnight we were interrogated very aggressively and subjected to serious threats. The following day we were taken, in shackles, to Ward 209 and placed in solitary confinement. 

Two days after our arrest, all three of us were taken to Branch 3 of the Shahid Moghaddas Public Prosecutor’s Office at Evin, where the charges against us were read out by Judge Hosseini.

How were you treated by your interrogators? Were you given your legal rights?

We were not allowed to make contact with our families for about a week, and interrogations were carried out frequently. The interrogators insulted us and slandered us for our beliefs.

We were blindfolded throughout our detention, except for when we were inside our cells. 

We had no access to even the most basic facilities: not even glasses, let alone paper or books.

During his detention, pastor Victor suffered severe dental pain, but they would not allow him to receive treatment.

Did the agents deal harshly with your families as well?

Yes, there were problems for them too. For example, pastor Victor’s wife, Shamiram, was repeatedly interrogated by Ministry of Intelligence agents.

For how long were you interrogated?

I was detained for 53 days in all – 37 days in Ward 209, 23 days in solitary confinement and 15 days in Ward 8.

I was eventually released on bail of 100 million tomans. It is also important to note that Ward 8 is supposed to be only for criminals, not prisoners of conscience.

Victor was released on bail of 300 million tomans after spending 65 days in Ward 209, most of which was in solitary confinement.

Amin was released on bail of 100 million tomans after spending 37 days in Ward 209 – more than 30 days of which was in solitary confinement. He also spent time in the quarantine section.

The charges brought against us were “conducting illegal house-churches and promoting evangelical Christianity”.

Other accusations were made against pastor Victor, such as “gathering and collusion”, and “communication with foreign organisations like Elam and Open Doors”. 

As you know, after your release, you were expelled from Iran, but your friends were again arrested and detained for a long time. Please can you tell us a little more about this second arrest?

On 26 August 2016, Amin was arrested for a second time alongside Hadi Asgari, Ramiel Bet-Tamraz, Amir Saman Dashti, and Mohammad Dehnavi at a private property in Firoozkooh district, Tehran province.

They were on a weekend break together and were arrested along with Amir’s wife, Shirin, by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, as well as a number of plainclothes police officers.

The officers were armed and responded to Amin’s request for an arrest warrant by beating him severely and using pepper spray. 

The Christians were then handcuffed and taken to Firoozkooh court, where they were charged with establishing a “house church”.

At the court, Amin pointed out that he had been beaten up during his arrest. The officers responded by threatening him. 

They also seized all Hadi’s identification documents, including his birth certificate, national ID card, passport, and driver’s license. They have yet to return these documents.

Two of the Christians were released with a warning, but the others – Amin, Hadi, Mohammad, Amir and Ramiel – were taken to Ward 209.

What charges did they face?

Amin was accused of “gathering and collusion”, “acting against national security”, and “insulting Islamic sanctities” – due to posting a mock sura from the Quran on social media.

The others were charged with “actions against national security”.

Do you know how they were treated by their interrogators?

Yes, my friends told me that the claims made against them by the interrogators were grossly offensive, humiliating, unconscionable and sexually explicit. 

Amin spent 83 days in Ward 209 and during that time he was only allowed to make two brief telephone calls. He spent more than 43 days in solitary confinement, and had two seizures but was denied medical treatment.

He was forced to switch cells 14 times and one time put next to a member of ISIS, who told him: “If I were not in jail, I would surely kill you!”

Unlike other prisoners, who were allowed time outside two or three times a week, Amin was instead placed in solitary confinement and even prevented from going to the dining hall.

What happened to the others?

Ramiel and Amir were released from Ward 209 after two months, after posting bail of 100 million and 200 million tomans, respectively. Their time in detention had mostly been spent in solitary confinement.

After spending three months in Ward 209, mostly in solitary confinement, Amin and Hadi were transferred to Ward 4, which was populated mostly by criminals guilty of financial misdemeanours.

Amin wrote letters from inside the prison, but he was refused permission to send them. So instead he wrote to Mr Khatib, head of the Information Protection Force, and Javad Larjani, the Deputy Prosecutor. But these letters went unanswered.

Amin and Hadi were not afforded the same rights as other prisoners, such as being able to attend classes at the prison university. They were also denied access to medical care. For example, Hadi suffered from kidney pain throughout his detention because of a severe cold that was never treated. He also suffered from severe back pain because of a fall in prison, and he is still feeling the effects of that fall today.

Amin and Hadi were also occasionally subjected to insults and false allegations from other prisoners, which were never acted upon by the authorities.

It should also be noted that Hadi’s case was added to that of myself, pastor Victor and Amin, even though Hadi was not present when we were first arrested; he was only there for Amin’s second arrest. 

Meanwhile, the cases of Amir, Mohammad and Ramiel have yet to be brought before a court.

We hear Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari went on hunger strike. Do you know the reason why?

During his detention, Amin went on hunger strike three times. The first time was while he was in solitary confinement in Ward 209, though this wasn’t reported in the media. He undertook a second hunger strike, along with Hadi, in February 2017 to protest against the lack of movement in their case. They ended that strike after the prosecutor ordered their case to be brought before the court. Amin had lost six kilograms in weight.

What happened during your trial?

The Revolutionary Court judge, Mashallah Ahmadzadeh, on 13 June 2017 sentenced pastor Victor, Hadi and me to ten years each in prison on charges of “acting against national security through the establishment of illegal house churches”. Amin was also given ten years on the same charges, and an additional five for “insulting Islamic sanctities”. 

Our lawyers appealed against the sentences.

Amin Afshar-Naderi went on hunger strike after his trial. Why?

Amin went on hunger strike for 21 days to protest against being hidden from the view of visiting ambassadors from different countries, who had come to visit Evin. He was also protesting against Judge Ahmadzadeh’s unfair judgments and denial of bail.

Eventually he was released on bail after posting a bond indemnity equivalent to $170, on top of his bail of $100,000.

Amin was transferred to hospital two days after his release. Today, eight months after his release, he is still suffering from “restless-leg syndrome”.

And what about Hadi Asgari? Was he given bail?

Hadi was eventually released on a bail on 120 million tomans on 22 April, after more than 19 months in detention.

Initially, Hadi had not been able to raise sufficient funds to post bail, but even after he raised the funds the bail process was postponed by various judges on several occasions.

Following his eventual release, he continues to suffer from all sorts of pain, including back pain and toothache, as a result of being denied medical treatment in prison. 

You mentioned Victor’s wife, Shamiram. Do you know what is the status of her case?

Shamiram was charged in May 2018 with “acting against national security by establishing and managing house churches”, “participating in Christian seminars abroad”, and “training Christian leaders in Iran for spying”. She was then released on bail of 100 million tomans. 

In January 2018, she was sentenced to five years in prison by Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh at the Revolutionary Court. 

Her lawyer appealed the verdict, but it has yet to be brought before a court.

Please tell us about your court hearing and release on bail

My lawyer and I were summoned to Branch 3 of the Prosecutor’s Office for my final appeal on on 31 April 2018, but it was delayed because of the absence of sufficient reports from the Information Office, even after 14 months. 

A week later, Amin was summoned to the same branch for his final defence, and the outcome was the same.

Then, following a re-summoning on 11 November, I met with a lawyer at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, where I was told I faced new charges of collusion, blasphemy and cybercrime, in addition to the previous charge of acting against national security. My bail was increased from 100 to 200 million tomans, and I was given three days to post it before I would be arrested.

In light of these new charges, I decided to leave Iran.

My appeal, and those of pastor Victor, Amin and Hadi, were due to be heard in February 2018, but they were postponed due to the absence of a lawyer, and some of the defendants. The appeals are now due to be heard at Branch 36 of the Appeals Court on 5 May, presided over by judges Ahmad Zargar and Hassan Babaee.