Witness Statements

Parham Mohammadpour

Parham Mohammadpour

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


Background and conversion

1. My name is Alireza (Parham) Mohammadpour, and I was born on 22 July 1990 in Nahavand [Hamadan Province], to a Laki-speaking [Kurdish dialect] family from the city of Harsin [Kermanshah Province]. 

2. My father’s first wife was barren. That’s why my father married my mother. The first child in the family, my older sister, was born with a disability, so my parents decided not to have any more children. But my mother unintentionally became pregnant again, and they decided to have an abortion. My mother lifted heavy objects and took injections, but none of these things had any effect, and it was God’s will for me to enter this world, but I was also born with a disability. 

3. I underwent surgery three times – at the ages of seven, nine and 11 – to treat a disability with my foot. After the third operation, the doctors said: “We can do nothing more for your child. From now on there are three possibilities: the first is that your son may be paralysed, which is very likely; or his condition may remain the same; or it may improve, but this third option is less likely.”

4. My parents’ religion is Yarsanism. My father was a follower of this religion for about 30 years. Many religious ceremonies were held at his home and he was well-known among friends and relatives.

5. My father was embarrassed and frustrated by mine and my sister’s disabilities, which were a source of shame to our parents and caused him not to show love to me. I longed to hear the words “my son” from my father, but not only did my father not love me, but he used hurtful words towards me, which stemmed from his own inner shame and frustration. Words such as: “If you were going to be a good person, you would have been born healthy. God certainly knew you weren’t going to be a good person, and that’s why He caused you to suffer in this way.” It was very painful to hear these words from my father.

6. So, from the age of 10, I started to follow Islamic rules in order to find peace. I prayed in the mosque, fasted, and I was the mokber [prayer announcer] in the mosque. I memorised 30 surahs from the Quran, and I always talked to God in private in the basement of our house and said: “I can’t believe that you would only speak to the imams; I also want to hear your voice.”

7. But the lack of attention and love from my father, my lack of inner peace, and my disability, caused me to become depressed from the eighth year of school onwards. I always tried to appear happy and light-hearted, but inside I was sad and anxious, and I was aggressive towards my family. Every night I wished I would die and wouldn’t wake up in the morning. My days were devoid of life and hope. I never went to the doctor regarding these depressive thoughts, but gradually this inner emptiness led me to unsuccessfully attempt suicide.

8. Then, while I was unconscious, I had a strange dream. I was on the edge of a precipice, beside a dark valley where nothing was visible. I threw myself into the valley, but I didn’t fall in. I hovered between the ground and the air, and I heard a voice say: “I am.” When I woke up, I thought it was my mother’s voice, or one of the doctors. 

9. Years passed, and I went to university with the same depressive mental state.

10. My cousin worked for a particular company, and one of the warehouse managers had given her one of the books of the Bible. My cousin gave it to me and said: “I don’t have the patience to read this, and I don’t think it would be very interesting to read anyway, but I thought you might find it interesting.” I said, in surprise: “I am a Yarsan and I follow the rules of Islam; I don’t need to study the Bible!” But, out of curiosity, I began to study the book, which was the Gospel of John.

11. One night I came to chapter 9, verse 2: “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned – this man or his parents – that he was born blind?’” Reading this verse, I was confronted with the tormenting words of others in the past who had said: “Parham himself, or his parents, must have done something bad for him to be disabled.” I became sad and agitated, and threw the book away, and said angrily: “I didn’t choose Christianity, You [Jesus] came after me, so either save me or get out of my life!” I cried that night until morning, but I didn’t fully understand the reason for my bitter tears.

12. The next morning I told myself that the book was the Word of God and wouldn’t change, so it would be better to read the end of the verse to see what Jesus said in response to the question. I was terrified and trembling when I opened the book, thinking that maybe I would hear an answer like the painful words uttered by others, and be disappointed with Christ.

13. But when I read John 9:3, Jesus answered: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” That answer took away the heavy burden that had been with me for all 22 years of my life. Suddenly the lightness and peace that I had been looking for for years came over me and I knelt with great eagerness and said: “God, I invite you into my life!” So I converted to Christianity on 12 December 2013, at 9.30pm.

House-church

14. I lived with my family in Marlik [south of Karaj] and I was a student at a private university in Abyek, [west of Karaj], where I earned my Master’s degree in ICT Engineering.

15. About 19 days after my conversion, I was studying the Bible at the university. One of the students saw the book in my hand and asked: “What is this book?” I answered: “It’s a Bible.” He didn’t show any reaction at that moment, but after two or three days the same student came up to me and asked: “Would you like to go to church?” I was surprised and asked: “Do we have churches in Iran? Yes, I am very interested!”

16. In Iran, leaders and active house-church members, because of security issues, can’t initially trust anyone who introduces himself as a Christian. For this reason, at first Christian converts meet individually with that person to make sure that he isn’t a spy of the government, and then that person can be brought into the meetings. It was the same in my case: one of the Christians met me on the street and in the park a few times, and then allowed me to attend house-church meetings on the outskirts of Marlik.

17. Each group within our house-church network had a separate leader. For this reason, I met them only three times.

18. In line with the network’s strategy, the number of members in the weekly groups was only about five in each group. In the training sessions in northern Iran the number of members allowed was more, but we weren’t allowed to have a mobile phone with us if we wanted to attend. The house-church group worked hard to ensure everything was done with security in mind. For example, on meeting days I called church members from the public phone on the street and informed them with code-words about the address and time of the meeting.

Arrest

19. After some time, some of my Christian friends and I rented a garage in Andisheh [next to Marlik] and went to the different houses in the third and fourth district of Andisheh, asking them what everyday products they needed, with a plan to purchase them on their behalf. We bought a lot of products and put them in the garage, with great expectations for what our new venture could become.

20. But then, on 10 November 2015, at around 10.30pm, I was in the garage with Ali and Pedram [two other house-church members], I was eating, and someone knocked on the door and said: “Excuse me, I hit your car. Please come and take a look.” As soon as we opened the door, about eight people wearing balaclavas and carrying guns entered the garage. I was very scared when I saw their weapons and aggressive behaviour, and thought they were thieves. One of them slapped me hard and said: “Lie on the floor!”

21. After five minutes of them spitting out obscenities and insults towards us, they showed us an arrest warrant and read out the names of my two friends. It was then we realised these people weren’t thieves but agents of the Ministry of Intelligence! We asked them to show their ID cards and then saw that they really did belong to the Ministry of Intelligence. One agent had a video camera and filmed everything from the outset.

22. They took mine and my friends’ mobile phones, but they returned mine at the end of the night. The reason they took my mobile phone initially was to prevent me from telling anyone else about our arrest at that moment. They confiscated our bank cards, wallets and personal Gospels, as well as Christian educational CDs and the DVD of the film “A cry from Iran” [about the murder of pastor Haik Hovsepian], worship CDs, the film of Jesus based on the Gospel of Luke, and our computer.

23. At about 12.30am, my two friends were handcuffed, put in a car and taken to prison. I was also put in a car, a white Peugeot. There were two people in the front, and one in the back next to me. The officer next to me was writing names on a piece of paper. I looked at the sheet and, because he had taken off his mask, I saw his face. He slapped me hard and said: “Who allowed you to look in this direction? Thank God that your warrant hasn’t been issued yet! The verdict of your friends is clear: they are facing life imprisonment or execution!” 

24. The other agents also insulted and ridiculed me. The agent sitting in front of me asked me questions about house-church leaders and members: “What is the name of your pastor? Do you know ‘Reza’?”, and so on.

25. Despite my fear, I decided to say that I didn’t know any of their names. But I soon found out that they already knew the real names and nicknames of most of the active members. For example, he said: “Maziar’s real name is Reza”.

26. They let me out of the car on the edge of Andisheh and said: “We have had you under our surveillance for about three months, and now we decided to come for you. So don’t think you are free! We’ll contact you soon, and you must come for interrogation.” I promised that I would go to any address they told me to, but because of my mother’s heart disease I asked them to call my mobile phone and not to come to our address. 

27. It took me about 20 minutes to get home from where they had dropped me. I went from street to street to find a public telephone, and also to confuse them in case they were following me. I decided to inform the pastor and other active members that two of my friends had been arrested. I called my pastor several times, but he didn’t answer. I got home at 1 o’clock in the morning. I was full of stress and worry and I couldn’t eat for a whole day.

28. The next morning, I called one of my Christian friends from a public telephone and said with code words: “My colleagues were taken to the hospital because of a gas leak, but I’m fine and I was allowed to go.” He replied: “Let’s meet each other.” I was very scared and thought I was being followed. That’s why I went to different places, getting rides with different drivers, until I reached my friend’s plumbing shop.

29. When I told my friend what had happened, he said: “Last night, at the same time that was happening to you, Ministry of Intelligence agents drove to every one of the cities we have house-church meetings and arrested a large number of people from each group, and our pastor.”

Interrogations

30. Every second of those next few days passed slowly for me and I thought every moment about the interrogations I would have to face and the questions they might ask me. I even said to myself that my friends were lucky that they had been arrested, so that at least they didn’t have this time of anxiously worrying about when it might happen. In prayer I asked God to grant me grace so that the answers I gave during my interrogation wouldn’t endanger any of my Christian friends, and that I could come out of this situation with my head held high.

31. Two days after the arrest of my friends, an intelligence official called me and said: “At the edge of Marlik, we are waiting for you.” I hugged my mother tightly and thought I might never see her again. Arriving at the meeting point, I got in their car, and they blindfolded me and took me somewhere for my interrogation.

32. When we got to that unknown place, one of the agents said: “Get out!” But when I get anxious, I can’t move very well and I lose balance, so I said: “I have a disability; please take my hand and help me to get out of the car.” The man took my hand and I got out of the car. Then he said: “There is a step in front of you; be careful.” I asked him to help me up the stairs. “Tell Jesus Christ to come and take your hand!” the agent said. Then my foot hit the stairs and I fell hard onto the ground. The agent put his foot on my neck and said sarcastically: “You see now that Jesus Christ isn’t alive? Otherwise he would have taken your hand!” They wanted to inflict psychological torture on me with their insults. But thanks be to God, who gave me indescribable peace at the height of these pressures and insults.

33. When I entered that place, I heard the voices of various prisoners being tortured. Because I was blindfolded, I don’t know if the sounds were real or if they just wanted to scare me. I was taken to a dark room and put on a chair. The interrogator entered the room, with a balaclava over his face. He asked for my name and other personal details, and I said, in surprise: “You have all my information!” He read the names of pastors, leaders, and some of the regular members, and said: “Do you know these people?” I said: “No, I don’t.” He spoke to me with obscene and insulting language, and said: “We found pictures of you with some of these people on the computer we confiscated in the garage. So how come you don’t know them?” I said that the photos were of my classmates from university.

34. Many different agents interrogated me. During one of the interrogations, I was blindfolded and told: “The supervising interrogator wants to come.” He was called “Haji” [someone who has been to Mecca]. The name of Ali and Pedram’s interrogator was “Parsa”. Maybe this supervising interrogator was their interrogator as well. He told me: “You are a promoter of Christianity! You distribute Jesus Christ’s films and Bibles!” I denied it, but he showed me some pictures and said with very ugly insults: “We took pictures of you while you were distributing the films and Bibles; we have evidence! Why are you lying? In this photo, the person who is distributing the Bible, is it me or you? Your father is a Yarsan; you memorised 30 surahs from the Quran; your father’s financial situation is good; your university grades are very good; why did you become a Christian? What did you lack? You could have become a satan-worshipper, but not a Christian!”

35. But I had tasted salvation, and I enjoyed evangelising. God had saved me from depression, and I had shared the gospel with the depressed, the broken-hearted, the disabled. So, when I found out that they had a lot of evidence against me, I took the opportunity to tell the interrogators about what God had done in my life. 

36. I said: “Imagine you are drowning and you aren’t able to swim. While you’re attempting to save yourself, and while you’re suffocating, someone comes and saves you. Jesus Christ did the same for me. I was stuck in the mud and Christ gave me life. I owe him for the rest of my life. I am afraid of death and I don’t deny my fear, but I know that if I die I’ll go to be with God in His kingdom.

37. The interrogator said rudely, angrily, and with vulgar words: “If it weren’t for the camera in the room, I know what I would do with you!” They didn’t beat me in the interrogation room, but they constantly shook my chair violently, creating a terrifying atmosphere with this shaking of my chair and the sounds of prisoners being tortured. I found it difficult to breathe several times due to the shaking of my chair, and felt like I was suffocating.

38. The Ministry of Intelligence agents weren’t actually concerned about religion. The interrogator cursed all the 12 Shiite imams and said: “The forefathers of the imams can all die, as far as I care! We don’t care about your beliefs or religion! Our problem is anti-regime activities. You are a promoter of Christianity, and you hold anti-government meetings! You are a national troublemaker! You cooperate with hostile foreign countries – the United States and Israel – and your goal is to overthrow the regime! You are a preacher of Christianity! Your accusation is ‘propaganda against the regime’, and ‘holding meetings against the government’. Your sentence is death, and that’s it!”

39. But during the fourth interrogation, the interrogators’ behaviour had softened, because they brought an Islamic cleric to convert me to Islam. But at the end, I told the Islamic cleric and interrogators: “Even if you cut me into pieces, I won’t abandon my faith in Jesus Christ. He is my saviour; he has lifted me from the rubbish dump, and I’ll never deny him.” But they forced me to sign a written commitment that I wouldn’t evangelise or attend house-church meetings.

40. Three of my interrogations lasted for about three hours, but one of them went on from 9am until midnight! I wasn’t given any food during the interrogations; I only asked for water when I was thirsty, and they gave me water. I also left the interrogation room several times to go to the bathroom, but I was very embarrassed by the behaviour of the officer who took me to the toilet, who stayed next to me and rushed me, saying: “Just sit down and do it!” I said that I was embarrassed, but he said: “I’m going to turn my back to you.” 

41. Once, when I entered the interrogation room, the smell of blood was so intense that I thought I was in a slaughterhouse. The stress was so great that, at that time, part of my hair turned white and I experienced in reality the saying “it made me old”. The interrogators knew my father was a follower of Yarsanism. That’s why I was threatened several times: “We will contact your father and discuss this with him; surely he would be willing to pay for us to kill you!”

42. In all, they called and summoned me four times in 18 days; they picked me up in Marlik, and took me, blindfolded, to some place for interrogation. The distance from Marlik to that unknown place varied. Three times it took about 15 minutes, and once it took about an hour. But I think we went to the same place all four times. All four times I heard the same rustling of leaves on the stairs and the same sound of a large iron door opening.

43. After the interrogations, they always blindfolded me and took me to a different place, then let me go. Each time I returned home, I would throw all my clothes into the washing machine. After the final interrogation, I actually threw all my clothes away, even my jacket, because I was afraid they had put a listening or tracking device in them. After the interrogations were finished, I spoke with some church members on the phone, but we didn’t meet at each other’s houses at all.

Confiscated items

44. Eventually, someone called us and told us we could go and retrieve the items they had confiscated from us, and gave us the address of the Shahriar NAJA [police] office. When I went there, the stairs, the rustling of leaves and the sound of a large green door suggested to me that this was where I had probably been blindfolded and brought for questioning all those times.

45. They showed me some of the CDs they’d taken and said: “Separate each of these CDs into ones that are Christian and ones that aren’t. You can’t take the ones that are Christian.” All the CDs were Christian, but I took only a few of them so the officer would assume I was separating the non-Christian ones. In the garage, I used to burn CDs of Christian teachings, sermons, and the film of Jesus Christ based on Luke’s Gospel, to evangelise and distribute them to others alongside other house-church members.

46. They also returned my computer, but I was afraid it would have a listening or tracking device, so I had to sell it, even though I’d only bought it recently. I implored them to return my Bible, but unfortunately they didn’t agree. But my bank card, wallet and passport, which they had also taken, were returned to me. 

Impact

47. I was registered with the state welfare organisation [because of the disability]. According to my skills, a job was found for me in a certain company, but after I went there to start work and the person in charge had entered my details, he asked: “Are you a Christian?” I said: “How do you know?” He said: “In the system, you are registered as a ‘Christian promoter’, so you can’t work here.” So that’s how I found out that the Ministry of Intelligence had filed a case against me.

48. Whenever I wasn’t at home, I always felt like I was being followed, and sometimes I was sure. If anyone on the bus approached me, I thought he was trying to put a listening or tracking device on my clothes. That’s why, whenever I went home, I threw all my clothes in the wash again.

49. I also struggled with my emotions. My Christian friends had been released because their families had paid their bail, and on the one hand I thanked God that I hadn’t been taken to prison, because my family wouldn’t have bailed me out. But on the other hand, I felt frustrated and struggled with feeling unworthy, having not been to prison like my Christian friends. I even talked to God and said: “If you plan for me to go to prison, I’ll obey and just ask you to give me the strength.”

Leaving Iran

50. After a few months, while I and my friends, who had been temporarily released, were waiting for our verdict and the decision of the judge or relevant authorities, they called us and said: “Either leave Iran, or stay in Iran and you’ll have to go to prison for about three to five years.”

51. I thought to myself: “How long will all this stress and anxiety last? These pressures will make my mother sicker and sicker, and if I get married and have children in the future, my family will also face this torture and these threats. And it won’t be easy for me to find a job, or any source of income.” So, although I never wanted to, I was forced to leave Iran. Several officers followed me to the airport, even on the day I left Iran. But they stopped after I passed the police checkpoint. And so I emigrated to Turkey on 21 October 2016.

52. After leaving Iran, several times suspicious calls were made to our home in Iran and my mother was asked about how I was doing. My mother asked their names and they said: “We are his friends and we want to know where he is and what he is doing.” I am sure that these people were from the Ministry of Intelligence, because all my friends are aware of my situation, and if they were really my friends they would be willing to say who they were. I have been living in Turkey for about four years [as of May 2020] now. During this time, I haven’t seen my family once. I have been through many difficult things and problems here, and experienced a lot of loneliness, but I am glad that at least I had the opportunity to be baptised – on 1 January 2017.