Witness Statements

Nathan Roufegarbashi

Nathan Roufegarbashi

Article18 spoke with Nathan via Skype, with his wife Mahsa translating. The couple have been living in Dallas, Texas since March 2017. They met while Nathan was living as a refugee in Turkey, having fled Iran following his arrest in July 2011.

Nathan, Mahsa and their three-year-old son Benjamin

Please can you tell me when you became a Christian and the pressures you faced as a result?

I started to believe in Jesus Christ in 2007, when I was 19 years old. 

In 2008, I started an Internet church, and I started an Internet ministry through it.

On 15 July 2011, my friend and I are were distributing some New Testaments in one of the cities of Iran and the security police arrested us.

We had some pamphlets and we had 700 New Testaments that we were giving as presents to people who were interested. It was in Kaleybar village, in East Azerbaijan province, north Iran. 

We saw the security police car coming to us, so we tried to escape, but our motorcycle flipped over and through that accident my head was bumped on the ground and also one of my friend’s legs was broken.

So the security police could arrest us and, at the moment they found us at that accident, they started beating us.

They beat us so bad that the people who were living in that village were telling each other, “They are both dead”, because they beat us very terribly.

So they transported us to the security police office station of Ettela’at [the intelligence agency]. So we were in Ettela’at until 31 July for interrogations, and then they sent us to Ahar Prison.

And on 19 July, as I was in the security office, they sent some officers to my parents’ house [in Tabriz]. I was living in my parents’ house, as everyone does in Iran. 

During the time I was in Ettela’at, I was in a cell alone, with no restroom or any other facilities in that cell, and in a very scheduled time I could go out and use a restroom or take a bath. And I always had a blindfold on my eyes when I wanted to leave the room. Even during the interrogations, I always had a blindfold.

So in interrogations I was sitting in front of a wall and I had a blindfold; someone was behind me doing the interrogation; and I just could see from down below my blindfold, and there was paper and a pen. I needed to write even with a blindfold what I was telling them.

When they sent me to prison on 31 July, they sent me to a part of the prison which was for murderers and traffickers – the criminal part, not for political prisoners.

And as the prison was full and there was no space for me, the only place I had to sleep was on the ground.

On 31 August, I could get released from prison by putting a bail of 20 million tomans, which was more than $16,000 at that time.

After I got released, Ettela’at was calling me sometimes.

After a while Ettela’at called me and said, “You need to come back for more interrogations, to talk about other ministries you have in other cities of Iran.” Because, they said, “You are not just charged for giving as presents the New Testaments to people; now we know you were serving also.”

So they called me and said, “You need to come for one interrogation and talk about your ministry that you have, and we need some more information. If you do not come and talk about it, Tehran Ettela’at also wants you to be in Evin Prison for more interrogations.”

That last call from Ettela’at was on 8 September. So on 9 September, the day after, I left my house, and on 12 September I fled Iran by walking over the mountains.

So I lived in Turkey for five and a half years, and now I’m living here in America.

During the time I was living in Turkey, many times they threatened my family in Iran and tried to persecute them. 

So during the time I was living in Turkey, they called my family and said, “We know where is Nathan living right now and we took many pictures of him, and just tell him not to serve anymore, tell him not to do any Christian activities.”

So they persecuted my family by by bothering them, calling them lots, and threatening them about what they are going to do. 

They were anyway suffering because their son had to leave their

country, and be far from them, and live outside – and just because I converted to another religion I had to become a refugee.

In January 2014, Ettela’at called my father and my brother, inviting them for interrogation. 

Then on 31 January 2017, when my mother was coming back from Turkey, because she came to visit us, while she was at the airport they took her passport.

And they didn’t give it back to her till 15 March. 

But then she came after that, on 29 March, to visit me in Turkey, but when she was coming back from Turkey, at the Bazargan border, they asked her questions again.

There was also another time when my father was coming back from Turkey to Iran and they asked him questions at the border.

In the summer of 2018, they came to my parents’ house, they searched the house and they were looking for me, and they wanted to arrest my brother instead of me, because they said, “No, you are Nathan.”

I just want to mention here also that my name is Vahid Roufegarbashi, but with the name Nathan I’m serving as a pastor of the Internet church.

In May 2019 they again came to my parents’ house, searching for me to arrest me.

One of the reasons they still want to persecute my family is I’m still serving as a pastor of the Internet church.

We need to go back a little bit… So in the summer of 2012, one year after I was released from prison on bail, the court decided to take all my bail. So I had to sell all I had in Iran to pay that money to the court.

Were you still in Iran at that point? 

No, I was outside Iran, but I had a car and other things, and whatever I had I had to sell to pay the money to the court. 

And what would happen if you didn’t pay?

My family submitted the title deeds of our house to the court to get my release. So if I didn’t pay, the court would sell the house, take the money they wanted, and then give the rest of the money to my family.

On 19 August 2019, some officers came to my parents’ house and no-one was home, so they asked their neighbour. The neighbour called my father and said, “Some officers are looking for you.” And so my father talked to the police officers through the neighbour’s phone and asked “What’s going on?” And they said, “We are looking for Nathan and he needs come to prison and introduce himself here. And we have permission from the court to come to your house and search it, and also we have permission to break the lock of the door if you’re not home. And we can come anytime and break the lock of the door. This is the permission we have from the court.”

So the day after, my father went to the court and asked, “What’s the problem?”

They again said, “We have permission from the court and your son has to come to the court.”

My father has heart disease and he had heart surgery, a bypass, and angiography. And he’s sick, but the police come to my parents’ house, and it’s not good for the neighbours and for the situation for our family, because the neighbours are like, “Oh, the police have come again!” 

So it’s not good, they’re trying to disturb my parents’ reputation between the neighbours and in the neighbourhood because they come a lot to my parents’ house and all the neighbours are watching them, how many times they came, and they call a lot and try to persecute them, and it causes stress for my parents, and it’s not good.

And as police know that I was a pastor in a local church in Turkey, and I still am the pastor of the Internet church even in America, and I’m serving through the Internet, they try to stop me by making pressure on my family.

So from 2011 until now, they are still persecuted.

In one aspect they are persecuted because their son is thousands of miles away and can’t come back to Iran. Also the police officers inside Iran, by calling them and interrogating them, they persecute my family.

So I ask the Christian world to pray for my family, because nothing can prevent me from serving the Lord.

And also, my father-in-law was arrested in February. And this is another way of persecuting us, because Mahsa’s father is a Christian. And now he is out on bail.

Have you ever reconsidered your ministry because of the threats to your family?

No.

Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to follow me needs to take his cross and follow me”, and I know this is my cross also.

Have you felt any pressure from your family because of the problems that they’re facing?

Mahsa

What I saw is that they are always patient with us. And it’s like they know it’s our decision to serve or not to serve. I myself never saw them try to stop Nathan. But you know, when they are under hard pressure, I guess they sometimes wish we don’t serve, but they never tried to mention it or force us, “Don’t do it.” They just try to be strong. And even sometimes they didn’t even want to scare us by telling us what [the police] did to them.

Have they been able to visit you in America?

Nathan

No.

So when did you last see them?

March 2017, when we moved to America.

And when do you think you might next be able to see them?

We must go back to a neighbouring country to visit. I don’t know when. 

But it’s a persecution for us [not to be able to see them]. 

Is it not possible for them to visit you in America?

It’s impossible. They can’t come to America to visit us.

When did you marry?

2013.

Did you meet in Iran or in Turkey?

In Istanbul. 

And my wife also can’t go back to Iran because she is a servant of the Internet church and was a servant of the local church in Turkey. And because of her marriage to me.


A few days after this interview, Mahsa gave birth to twin baby boys, Joshua and Josiah.