Witness Statements

Arina Zarei

Arina Zarei

This is the first in our new series of Witness Statements. For a summary of Arina’s story, you can read our feature article here.


Introduction

1. My name is Fatemeh (Arina) Zarei. I was born on 27 December 1975, in Isfahan, to a Muslim family with strong religious beliefs. My older brother, who was martyred in the early days of the war [with Iraq], was one of the commanders of the IRGC [Revolutionary Guard], of equal rank to [conservative politician] Mohsen Rezaee. However, I converted to Christianity in 2008. 

2. My acquaintance with Christianity developed after my separation from my husband. The problems I had with my ex-husband also caused problems for me. That’s why I decided to go to a group called Food Addicts Anonymous, which was a kind of group therapy like other anonymous associations. In these meetings I met people who were Christians, and my acquaintance with Christianity was first through them.

3. Later I learned more about Christianity through a Christian woman named Atena, and this relationship led me to my conversion. Shortly after I became a Christian believer, I started being active in a house-church in Isfahan, and I continued with my Christian activities until my arrest and eventual departure from Iran.

Christian activities

4. My active involvement in the house-church started from the first two or three months after I joined. I met with other Christians, and tried to encourage and strengthen them in their faith. And because I had a car, I could visit nearby cities and encourage even more Christian believers. I met with the leader of the house-church network, and was later also invited to be a leader. In this group, I was responsible for the finances and participated in training seminars inside and outside the country.

5. I also talked to some of my co-workers about Christ. Our manager realised this, and although he was an open-minded person, I gradually felt insecure in the work environment. The increase of my church activities also led me to quit my job. But I didn’t say anything to my family, so they still thought I was going to work.

Arrest

6. On 20 February 2013, I went to the home of my friends Nasrin and Ramin, in Shahinshahr [a city just outside Isfahan], to attend a meeting of house-church leaders from Isfahan. The meeting lasted several hours and was coming to an end, and since my mother’s nurse only stayed with her during the daytime, I wanted to go home as soon as the meeting was over to take care of my mother in the evening and get her ready for bed. 

7. Suddenly the doorbell rang and Ramin went to open the door. Then he said that several men were behind the door, holding a camera. We found out that they were intelligence agents, and so we had no choice but to open the door. When the door was opened, about seven or eight male agents entered the apartment. Nasrin and Ramin’s apartment was a small one, with two bedrooms, and our number was relatively large. There were about 15 of us, and with the arrival of these agents the space became even smaller. 

8. There were also three children at the meeting that night: Bita’s daughter, Sarina, who was in primary school; Daniel, the son of Maryam and Reza, who was about three years old; and Armita, Leila and Peyman’s daughter, who wasn’t even two years old. They were in another room with the person who took care of the children. The small space we were in and the large number of people created a more tense atmosphere, and Armita especially was very scared. Her older brother and Sarina were more aware of what was happening, but of course they were very scared too.

9. From the very beginning, the agents created fear and shock through their violent behaviour. While filming the whole process, they shouted at us: “Don’t talk to each other! Don’t touch anything! Put your books on the table, and write your names on your books!” Books, documents, laptops and CDs were confiscated. The appearance and behaviour of the agents had made us all extremely anxious. We were worried about what we should say if they asked us about the other members of our group and house-church, and how to make sure we told them the same things. Our biggest concern was what information we shouldn’t give them, so others would be protected.

10. The stress made us all want to go to the bathroom a lot more than usual, and the agents noticed this and made fun of us. Then they separated us, so they could have more control over everything and the opportunity to coordinate with each other. We women had to go into one room and put on our headscarves and manteaux [long jackets]. There was only one woman among the agents. Later, the fact that we hadn’t been wearing our headscarves was used against us in our case as “immoral” behaviour.

11. As time went on, I became more and more worried that it was time for my mother to go to bed and that I should prepare her for bed, and that there was no-one taking care of her. My brother and his family lived with us, on the second floor of our house, and my younger brother lived in a room next to ours, so I kept asking the agents to let me call my mother. I begged the agents and their supervisor many times, and at the same time my mother kept calling and the phone rang continuously. Finally, they let me answer my mother’s phone calls and I told her I was still at work and wouldn’t be home until later.

12. The agents knew I had a car, so they told me: “We’ll take you separately because we have to come and search your home.” 

13. I was very worried that their presence in our home would cause my mother to have a stroke through shock and anxiety, so I did everything to warn them about this danger, but it was useless and they insisted on coming with me to my home anyway.

House inspection

14. It was about 8.30pm when they raided our meeting, and around 10pm when they made me go with them. We got in my car. Two agents were in there with me, one in the front seat and the other in the back. Another agent was following me in a Peugeot. I had CDs, Christian books, and other items in my car that they also confiscated. The drive to our house in Isfahan took about 45 minutes, and during all this time they humiliated and insulted me as much as they could and said such nasty things to me.

15. Still in shock, I worried about my mother’s reaction to the agents and begged them to use the entrance to my room, not to the room where my mother was. But they refused to do so, even though I kept insisting. At 10.30pm, when we arrived at our home, they asked me to drive the car into the parking lot of the house and I asked them again not to come inside where my mother could see them. They said very rudely: “Take us inside in the same way you take other [men] with you inside your house at night!” I became very angry with their rudeness and warned them about their shameless words and insults. I said: “Be very careful what you say! What are these insults you are saying to me?”

16. One of the agents said: “Go and open the door for us into your room.” When I entered, I saw Mojtaba, my nephew, lying in front of the TV and watching a movie. I signalled to him to open the door and, as soon as he saw the agents, he was very afraid. I explained the situation to him and said: “These are the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and they have arrested me. Keep quiet so that my mother doesn’t hear anything”.

17. The agents continued to insist on coming inside, so I opened the door from the other side of the house. 

To take care of my mother and get her ready for bed, I had to walk between the two sections of our house regularly. I had to take off my coat and go to my mother, then put it on again and go back to where the agents were searching and confiscating my personal things. After my mother fell asleep, the agents wanted to go and search down there as well.

18. A few moments later, one of them noticed my mother’s Martyrs Foundation membership card [for those who lost a loved one during the war with Iraq] and her bank cards, which were on the table. Seeing the card of the Martyrs Foundation, the agent was filled with anger and rage. He raised his voice and began to swear and say inappropriate things. He was very angry to discover I belonged to a martyr’s family [and would therefore be receiving government aid] and had become a Christian. I warned him to keep his voice down so my mother wouldn’t wake up. One of the agents, who behaved more respectfully, warned the aggressive agent, who was called “Ghasemi” and showed a lot of disrespect, because of his rudeness. 

19. During the house search they looked through all my personal belongings, and even my underwear. I had a lot of books and Christian items at home and they confiscated everything – from CDs and personal photo albums, to money, cheques, identification documents and my mobile phone and computer. I had no more than two pieces of jewellery with cross symbols on them but they confiscated all my jewellery, whether gold or fake, along with a small photograph of Jesus Christ on the wall of my room, and my personal journals, as evidence of a crime. And they never returned my cross jewellery.

20. Finally, after an hour, they had searched the whole house – even the items in the refrigerator. There was only Mojtaba’s room left. My nephew was a student and in his room there was a bookshelf with old books and some Islamic books, and also his own textbooks. I asked the agents not to take these books with them, and not to harm his studies. They didn’t agree initially, but at my insistence they were thinking about ending the search when one of them spotted the book “Who is my spouse?”, written by [Iranian-Armenian pastor] Rev Edward Hovsepian, which was on the table in Mojtaba’s room. 

21. A few days before, I had given this book to Mojtaba to read, so it was on his desk. When they saw the book, they became angry again and said: “No, we must take all these books with us!” I was very worried that they might want to include Mojtaba in my case and arrest him, so I explained that this was my book and that when I was reading it, I left it on the table in his room. Finally, they agreed to leave the books on the shelf.

22. As they prepared to leave, one of the agents said: “You’ll be our guest for a few days, so collect your clothes and personal things and bring them with you.” Not knowing how many days I would be held or what personal items I should take with me, I asked him what I would need. He said to take towels, clothes and other things like that. I asked the agents if they would take my car too. They said “no”. I asked: “Where are you taking me?” They said: “Dastgerd Prison.”

23. I went to my mother to say goodbye and explained that I had to go on a business trip the next day and wouldn’t be back for a while, and that I would tell my sister, Zohreh, to come and take care of her for a few days. I also told Mojtaba: “Tell your aunt to come to take care of my mother for a while. You can also tell my father and your uncle [Mohammad] about my arrest.” Mohammad, my younger brother, is a religious person, a supporter of the regime, and a staunch supporter of velayat-e faqih [clerical rule in Iran]. I was worried about their reaction to the news of my arrest because of my Christian faith, but I decided to let them know anyway.

Dastgerd Prison

24. It was only about 15 minutes from our house to Dastgerd Prison, but during this short time the agents said a lot of nasty and humiliating things to me, without any reservations – especially because they had found out I was from a martyr’s family. And now that I knew my mother was safe, I began to answer back to the things they said. 

25. For example, they said: “Your activity in the house-church was illegal and your gathering was illegal.” And I responded: “Does a religious community need permission? My mother holds prayer and religious meetings at our home several times a year during [the Shia holy months of] Muharram and Safar, and she never had to get permission. Why do we have to get permission to gather with friends in a house and worship together?” These responses made them even more angry and they accused me of being rude.

26. They said: “If you want to make these mistakes [form a house-church], leave this country! This country has a law, and if you don’t want to live according to this law, you must leave this country!” I said that Iran was my country, that I loved it and I didn’t want to leave.

27. Ghasemi asked me: “What’s the matter with you all anyway, making these strange noises like a turkey?” After this and a few other things he said, I realised they had monitored our prayer meetings and that he was speaking about some of our members speaking in tongues.

28. When we arrived at the prison, I discovered that the agents hadn’t actually even had any permission to enter or search our homes. We had to wait outside the prison for a few minutes because the agents weren’t allowed to enter. After many phone calls, they were finally allowed to enter and took me to Ward “Alef Ta”. We entered a large corridor, and there I saw Nasrin, Bita, and two other leaders. A little later, I heard the voice of Sahar [another leader]. Ramin was there too, but I didn’t see him. We were placed on chairs with little desks attached to them, and sat at a distance from each other. At that moment I didn’t know where Sara or Atena [two other leaders] were.

29. Bita had two children and apparently she had called her family at the time of her arrest and they had come and taken the children with them. So the agents arrested Bita and took her away. Leila and Maryam also had small children. Maryam’s younger brother had come and taken her child home, but Leila’s child was sick and her condition worsened during the arrest, so Leila was allowed to take her to the hospital and then appear for interrogation.

30. Everything was shocking to me, but at least I was relieved about my mother. Since the agents had separated me from the others, they didn’t know about what had happened to me, but I managed to signal to Nasrin, who was sitting in front of me, that I was also now in prison with them.

Interrogations

31. Early in the interrogations, the agents took the main leader of our group with them to another place. I had back pain that got worse after sitting for a long time, and for this reason I stood up for a few moments. But then I was shouted at: “Sit down! It’s as if you still don’t know that you have been arrested, or where you are now!” There were many different interrogators, and we could hear the voices of other interrogators talking loudly to other detainees. Their raised voices and shouts themselves increased our fears. Sahar’s interrogator insulted her a lot. He spoke to her in a very loud voice and with a lot of aggression. 

32. One interrogator put a piece of paper in front of me and told me to write down my personal details. They also wanted us to write down the details of our family members: their occupations, who they were in contact with, and other things. One of the questions was about religion. I left this part blank, but the interrogator kept coming and leaning over my head and insisting that I write something there. Finally I wrote: “Christianity, but Christianity is not a religion but a way to reach God.” When the interrogator saw this answer, he kicked me in the thigh so hard that my chair was knocked over and I fell against the wall. “What did you write!” he shouted. “Why are you [wasting the money the government paid for this paper]? He gave me a new sheet and told me to fill it out again. This time I only wrote “Christianity”.

33. One of the interrogators was an elderly man with a very ugly face and ugly behaviour. Another interrogator was a younger and more handsome man in comparison to the others, but his behaviour was disgusting and filthy. When Nasrin was still in front of me, the young interrogator approached Nasrin in such a way that he was very close to her. He even once tried to sit on the handle of Nasrin’s chair. It was under these circumstances that a argument broke out between him and Nasrin. Suddenly the interrogator kicked Nasrin in the thigh in the same way my interrogator, Ghasemi, had done to me. Nasrin fell to the ground, and after she stood up, the interrogator’s shoe print was clearly visible on her trousers.

34. The chief of the interrogators, who was professional in how he went about his business, also asked a number of questions to us, on top of those the other interrogators had asked. He went up to Nasrin, but Nasrin said: “I won’t answer! Whether I answer or not, you’ll hit me, so why should I answer?” The interrogator tried to calm her down and persuade her to speak again. I think they beat Sahar too. I could hear her screaming loudly several times. They said ugly things to her because of the [darker] colour of her skin. I was then taken to a room upstairs, where I was placed in front of another interrogator, who was obese. The upper floor was relatively large, and from it you could hear the sounds from the other cells via the air-conditioning vent. It was there that I heard Sara’s voice. She was being interrogated strongly, and treated very badly.

35. The interrogators found out that I was in charge of the church’s finances and tried to extract information from me more gently. They said: “You are from a respectable family. We understand that these people have tempted you, and you have been deceived. We want to help you.” I answered: “No, I have become a Christian as a result of research, and in full awareness. I have neither been deceived, nor am I ignorant!” As soon as they found out about my divorce, they said insulting and humiliating things to me. I was treated like a prostitute, and they insulted both me and my family.

36. They asked for names and addresses [of other church members], but I really didn’t know the answers because I didn’t know many of them. The interrogations lasted all night, and it was around 8.30 in the morning when we were taken to the cells. For most of our detention, we were taken for interrogation at night. During one of the interrogations, I protested and said: “Why don’t you interrogate us during the day? At night, we are tired and sleepy, so we can’t think straight!” The interrogator said: “Do you think you came to your aunt’s house! We also work in shifts and have to come here at night to do our interrogations. The sooner you answer our questions, the sooner we will let you go back to your cell so you can sleep!”

Cell conditions

37. Afterwards I was taken to a cell downstairs. As soon as the door of the cell opened, I saw Sahar, Bita and Sara. I was encouraged to see them all together and became very emotional. We talked about the interrogators’ questions and the answers we gave. But less than five minutes later the door of the cell opened and my name was called and I was told to come out. Worry and shock came over me again. But in fact I only had to change my cell. I was taken to a cell next door and entered and saw Nasrin sitting in one corner. I was glad that we were together. In addition, I knew that our other friends were in the next cell.

38. In the cell, we had a TV and a refrigerator, some crockery, and a bathroom that had no door but only a short wall that separated the bathroom and shower area from the rest of the cell. Prison officers didn’t knock any time they came but just suddenly opened the door and entered the cell. Especially one of them, who was very rude, would open the small opening on the door, without knocking, and look inside our cell. In general, we felt we had no privacy, and we objected to this. Because of this behaviour we couldn’t take a shower for fear that they would open the door and enter at any time. We had to sit and wash ourselves hidden behind the short wall, with a lot of fear and shivering.

39. On one wall of the cell former prisoners had even written Bible verses and other Christian phrases. I was fortunate in that I had my personal belongings with me. The others had been brought directly to the detention centre from the place where they were arrested, so they weren’t given the opportunity to take anything with them. 

40. They gave us blankets, but no pillows, and a little later they brought us breakfast, which was a small piece of bread, some tea, and a small packet of tahini sauce to eat with the bread. On other days, there was some cheese, or a piece of butter and a small bowl of jam to eat with the bread. After breakfast, I told Nasrin that we should eat and sleep, saying: “If we don’t have a lot of strength, we may become weak and nervous during the interrogations.” In addition, I thought that if we were obviously troubled and weak, it might make them bolder. We were very worried about the other members of the group. Nasrin was very worried about her husband, Ramin. But at the same time, God’s presence gave us special comfort.

41. After we talked a little and were comforted by each other, I tried to sleep. For me, sleep helps me to feel more calm in stressful situations. But I also needed to regain my physical strength. So I slept, and when I woke up Nasrin said: “I was surprised when I saw how comfortably and deeply you can sleep in these conditions!” But in fact, I didn’t have much to lose; I was divorced and living alone. I didn’t have many ties. I thought they would eventually decide either to keep me there, or execute me, and I was relieved that my mother now had someone who would take care of her.

42. Atena, who had come from Tehran and had handed herself in to the MOIS [Ministry of Intelligence], was interrogated with us during these days, and held in the same cell as Nasrin and me. 

Family visit

43. I think it was the second night when Ghasemi took me again for interrogation. His behaviour had changed a little. He apologised for kicking me the night before, and begged me not to curse him for it. “Everyone has a job, and that’s my job,” he said. “Don’t curse us, for God’s sake! I have a family too! They haven’t done anything to deserve to be cursed by you!” I began by telling him a little about Christ’s teaching about forgiving enemies and not bearing grudges or cursing them. First he listened for a while, but then he said: “OK, that’s enough! Stop promoting Christianity to me!”

44. Two or three days later, they took me to a room and asked me how I was. They asked: “Do you want to talk to your brother? If he comes here and wants to talk to you, would you be willing to talk to him?” I didn’t expect this, but because of my brother’s connections and influence, it wasn’t that extraordinary either. Finally, I said: “If he comes here, I’ll be happy to see him.” I was taken to another room in the same hallway, and there I saw my brother, Mohammad, in whose face I could see fear. He was very worried about what had happened to me. I told him: “You know what dirty creatures these people are; otherwise a simple arrest wouldn’t scare you so much!”

45. My brother tried to convince me to recant my faith in Christ, and aimed to take responsibility for my conversion. He had a doctorate in psychology and, although he lived in Tehran, he had even come all the way to Isfahan [nearly 450km] to give my ex-husband and me counselling during our marriage difficulties. But now he was telling me: “Maybe after the divorce, we should have supported you more. But because you didn’t have that support, you believed the lies of the Christians and were attracted to them.” I replied: “I have been a Christian for three years now and I am active in the church. My faith isn’t an emotional reaction to the situation I was in; I came to faith through personal research, and I’m not willing to give it up.”

46. The discussion with my brother took a long time. I told him firmly that I had no intention to leave the path I was on. I said: “I have found God in Christ, and if necessary I’ll remain in this prison to follow Him. Of course, I don’t want to stay here, but if they won’t accept my conversion, I’ll accept the troubles of prison.” My brother was very upset and dissatisfied with my reaction. He said: “If that’s what you think, it’s your decision but, you know, whoever makes a decision has to live with the consequences.” I answered: “No problem. Thank you for coming. I’m proud to have a brother like you.” He replied: “If this is your final decision [to stay firm in your faith], you are no longer my sister.”

Prosecutor’s office

47. The same day, or the next day, we were taken to the prosecutor’s office and there the bail of 20 million tomans [approx. $7,000] was set for our release. After the court hearing, I asked to call my family. At first, the officials said in a contemptuous tone: “You don’t seem to know where you are! Even if we were to deliver your corpse to your family, we would have done you a great favour, let alone allowing you to call them!” But an hour or two later I was allowed to make a call. My sister, Zohreh, picked up the phone. She was very worried, and crying. I tried to calm her down and tell her I was fine. I said: “Don’t worry about me. Everything is fine and comfortable here. We even have a refrigerator, and a TV!” As soon as I said that, the official said: “Don’t give additional information!” And he immediately hung up the phone.

Further interrogations

48. I had written down all the information about the finances of the house-church on Excel, but I’d written it in such a way that the interrogators couldn’t work out what any of it meant. They put the Excel sheet in front of me and asked: “What do these things mean?” When I answered that I didn’t remember correctly, they said: “You are the one who wrote them, so you should know what they mean!”

49. Other topics mentioned during the interrogations included the house-church’s finances and bank accounts. The interrogators wanted to separate my mother’s and my bank account details and find out how much of my money belonged to the church. They also wanted to know where we got the money from. I explained that our church members donated one tenth of their income to the church, and that this was our source of income. The interrogator said: “That’s not possible. How come we have to suffer so much to get money from people, but then people will so easily give a tenth of their income to the church?”

50. They asked: “How did you spend this money?” I said: “We helped those in the church who were in need, or paid for food during training seminars.” Because the interrogators had seen the bills of the seminars’ expenses, and the receipts, they responded by joking: “You didn’t have much food!”
Since I wasn’t scared anymore, I answered back, and they told me I was cheeky, and rude. They even said: “Your husband divorced you because you are so impolite! You made him miserable!”‌

51. They had also printed out photos from our computers and phones, and wanted me to give them information about the people in the photos. In addition they had a list of different addresses and asked me about those places and the people who lived there. When I insisted I didn’t know any of the addresses, they told me I’d been to each of them on such and such a date. “Why do you deny it?” they said. And so I found out that they had been monitoring us for some time, and when I saw that they had a lot of information about a particular case, I understood it would be difficult to hide things from them. Most of all, the interrogators wanted to know what our activities were, and in what ways we did them.

52. We were in separate rooms during the interrogations. I was once taken to a cell for interrogation. In the middle of the cell was a chair, with its back to the door. The interrogator, knowing that I had severe back pain, said: “Sit on the chair and don’t look back until we get you up.” I had been sitting on the chair for more than two hours when I heard Bita screaming and crying. Once, during Bita’s interrogation, I heard the sound of a chair breaking and, because I had been beaten, I wondered what was happening to her. I was very scared that night. Because they didn’t allow me to turn my head, I felt that they were standing behind me, waiting for me to move so that they could beat me. Then the interrogator came and put me back in my cell. From the cell, we could hear the sound of other people crying out in pain. They inflicted a lot of psychological torture on us like this, and threatened us, and asked us many insulting questions about our families.

53. I was in ward Alef-Ta for a week, and during this time I was interrogated every night. Little by little, my initial fear and anxiety went away and I and the others became familiar with the interrogators’ methods and behaviour. Towards the end of the interrogation period, they even became like old acquaintances to us, and it seemed like they considered us as a kind of research project. 

Women’s ward

54. After the interrogations, we spent a week in “quarantine” [where prisoners are held before being transferred or released], which was next to the women’s ward. Then the officers took us to the women’s ward, through the back door, and did a full strip-search, until we were completely naked. During this inspection, they discovered that Sara had head lice, and didn’t allow her to enter the ward with us. Instead, she was returned to quarantine.

55. The interrogators had warned us not to talk to anyone else in the ward, nor to tell them the reason for our detention. But some of the other prisoners saw our arrival through the glass of the room where the officers took our fingerprints, and they were curious to know about us. One of the girls came to the fingerprint office to do something, and saw the word “Christianity” as our charge, written on a piece of paper. When she returned to the yard, she told the other women. For this reason, as soon as we arrived, we had a great opportunity to talk to others about our Christian faith and the reason for our detention. There were a large number of women in the women’s ward of Dastgerd Prison, and almost everyone there found out why we had been brought there.

56. After the physical examination and fingerprinting, we were ready to go inside the ward, when all of a sudden the officers said: “You can’t enter the ward with these clothes! You have to wash your clothes thoroughly, and then go inside.” We said: “We have no other clothes – only what we are wearing.” But they insisted that this was the rule, and that otherwise they couldn’t allow us to enter. Finally they brought out some old clothes left behind by former prisoners for us to put on. Then we washed all our clothes – from our jackets to our socks; everything we had with us. The “mothers” of the ward [older, experienced prisoners] came and helped us, and gave us some detergent.

57. We didn’t know where to dry our clothes. On the one hand the weather was cold and the clothes wouldn’t dry easily, and on the other we were told: “If you hang your clothes on the line, you should stand next to them; otherwise they’ll be stolen in an instant.” We decided to stay together, now that there were five of us, so that no-one would hurt us. So we took it in turns to stay next to our clothes, in pairs, until they were dry. Finally we discovered some pipes that were hot, and spread the clothes out over them to dry them. And after all of that, they were mostly dry, so we took them with us and entered the hallway of the ward.

58. Prisoners were divided into cells based on age groups. Because we were in the same age group, we stayed together. We were worried about being harmed by other prisoners – some of whom were very strange. Bita, Nasrin and I were married women, but Sahar and Atena weren’t, so we were especially worried about them. We asked if there were CCTV cameras there, or other ways to ensure the safety of prisoners. The “mother” of our ward explained: “There is a camera, but most of all you have to take care of yourselves.”

59. Our “mother”, who realised we weren’t very familiar in that environment, also took care of us. But we later found out that before our arrival the prison officers had told the other prisoners not to talk to us. There was no bed for us to sleep on. We were told to lie down on the floor, in the space between the beds, and sleep there. But the other prisoners were awake until morning, and every night they used to gather together and sing sad songs – so, in the end, none of us slept until morning.

60. The next day we were taken for another interrogation. The interrogator, who didn’t seem to know that we had been held in the women’s ward, became very angry when he found out. He shouted at his colleagues, and at us: “Who gave you permission to take these prisoners to that ward?” He ordered that we should be returned to quarantine. Of course, we were happy about this, because it was safer, and Sara wouldn’t be alone anymore. But even after Sara had been separated from us, we used to find out about her condition through our “mother”. That interrogation was our last interrogation, and the interrogators joked more during it and behaved more leniently.

The honourable guard

61. During our detention, on the day of Sara’s birthday we wanted to do what we had seen in films and send a birthday message to her by hitting the cell wall. So we hit the wall with my metal hair clip, but because of the noise an officer came and said: “What’s the matter with you! You’re taking this place apart!” We explained and said: “It’s our friend Sara’s birthday, and we would like to ask you to give her this gift for us” – a sweet treat that Ramin or another leader had sent us. The officer seemed to be a very good and honourable man, and agreed to do so. He then took the gift, and gave it to Sara. We prayed a lot for him, and thanked him for his respectful behaviour during our detention.

62. After Arash and another leader were arrested, we also heard about them through this same honourable guard, but, of course, only to the extent that they were still in detention and in a relatively good condition. It seemed that Ramin hadn’t given them much information, so the interrogators had threatened him: “We’ll abuse your wife [Nasrin] if you don’t talk!” Finally, at one point, they took Nasrin to Ramin, to encourage him to write down some information. And after seeing that Nasrin was all right, and thinking that the information he was trying to hold on to was already known by the interrogators anyway, Ramin gave in and wrote some things.

Quarantine

63. There were six of us in quarantine. There were also three other detainees, one of whom was a Baha’i girl. She said that she had been arrested and quarantined for about a month. I think her name was Baharak. We had two bathrooms and a toilet in the quarantine. And there was a window above the door. The ground in the quarantine cell was made from stone, and very cold. A 12-sq-metre carpet was laid on the floor. We also had a heater, which was broken, and water was dripping from it, which had also made the carpet wet. So it was always very cold there. To sleep, we spread our blankets under us. We didn’t have much space, so we had to sleep at an angle, and warm ourselves from each other’s body heat. And if we wanted to turn around, we all had to move together!

64. There were also some drug addicts in the prison, who were experiencing withdrawal symptoms and made very horrible sounds. And there were also others in the prison with terrible diseases, like HIV. We helped clean the ward, and care for the sick, which made the other prisoners respect us even more. The “mother” from the main ward also came to bring us snacks.

65. Bita was sometimes restless and cried because she was so worried about her children. We reminded ourselves of Bible verses, and worshipped, played games, and danced regularly, which helped keep our spirits up. In the second week of our detention, we were allowed to call our families. Leila and Bita’s husbands transferred money onto our prisoner’s shopping cards from outside the prison, so we could buy sanitary products or food from inside the prison.

Release

66. When our bail was set, I was worried about who might be willing to bail me out. For some of the others, their spouses or parents did, but I wasn’t sure if my religious family, who were against my faith, would be willing to post bail for me. Every day in quarantine, in the afternoon, the names of those who could leave were announced.

67. The first one of us released was Sara, followed by Bita and then Nasrin. Eventually, my older brother deposited his pay slips as bail for me, and I was released, together with Sahar. We were very worried about Atena, who was the last one to be released. The Baha’i girl had also already been released. I was in quarantine for about four or five nights, and in prison for a total of about 12 days.

Post-release interrogations

68. After my release, I had to report to the MOIS office for at least two further interrogations. I had to go to the MOIS office in Shahinshahr, but before the interrogations I went to Nasrin and Ramin’s house. When I left, I noticed that their house was under surveillance, and at the interrogation I was told: “We know you went to their home before you came here!”

69. In the last session, I asked if we were allowed to communicate with each other now that our interrogations were over. They said: “You can’t have church meetings like in the past, but ultimately you are friends, so you can communicate with each other.”

Confiscated items

70. They returned my confiscated items, apart from my books and other Christian items. They put my cash and bank cards in a box in front of me, and asked: “Do all these belong to you?” I said: “Yes.” They said: “Take whatever is yours. Whatever belongs to the church, leave it there. We don’t want you to have dirty money in your life!” There was about 600,000 to 700,000 tomans [approx. $250] of cash in front of me. I left about 30,000 tomans to avoid further questions, and took the rest. Then I went to the bank with the cards, and I was very happy to see my accounts weren’t frozen. About 3 to 4 million tomans [approx. $1,300] of the money that belonged to the church was in my bank account. I withdrew it, and took it to Leila’s house and handed it to her. Many of the others lost their jobs after we were arrested, and had no source of income, so this money was very useful in meeting their needs.

Court

72. I didn’t attend the first trial at the criminal court, which took place on 30 June 2013 and was related to us having a satellite receiver and “inappropriate” hijab – under the charge of “unlawful relations” [for gathering with non-relatives of the opposite sex]. Our lawyer, Mr Mehdi Jahanbakhsh Harandi, told us: “You don’t need to attend.” In that court, Nasrin and her husband were fined for having a satellite receiver, and we were all sentenced to 40 lashes for our “inappropriate” hijab. But I attended the first hearing at the Revolutionary Court on 20 May 2013, which also issued a verdict. We were convicted of “anti-state activity through conducting house-church services”, and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment.

73. On the advice of our lawyer, Leila, Atena, Sara and I sent letters to the Article 90 Parliamentary Commission [a parliamentary complaints body], state prosecutor Gholam Hassan Ejei, the Supreme Court, the Parliament, the Deputy of the Chief Justice of Iran, the Office of the Supreme Leader, the Judiciary’s Civil Rights Office, the Head of the Judiciary, the Office of President Hassan Rouhani, and the head of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Ali Larijani. In these letters, we sent an explanation about our situation and how we had been treated, as a complaint, and also protested against the false accusations made against us that led to our sentences.

Leaving Iran

74. I left Iran on 20 February 2014, so I didn’t participate in the appeal-court hearing. My mother died six months later. After I left, the agents called our house twice, and asked about me. Both times my sister answered the phone. Their first call was after Persian New Year. My sister said: “She’s on a trip.” They replied: “We know she has gone to Turkey!” The second call was made in the summer. My sister answered again and said: “Don’t call here anymore; you know she went to Turkey, and we don’t know what she is doing. Don’t bother us!” Then they didn’t call anymore.

75. The bail amounts of all the others who left for Turkey were confiscated. My bail, however, strangely wasn’t seized.