Witness Statements

Leila and Peyman

Leila and Peyman

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


Conversion

Leila

1. My name is Leila Fooladi Helabad and I was born on 24 July 1976 in Isfahan. In around 2001, I was studying maths in Tehran while my family lived in Isfahan, and I felt very low during this time. I lived with my mother’s uncle and his wife, who were hajis [they had been to Mecca]; they were very committed Muslims. They believed that before sitting at the table to have a meal, you should have done your prayers in the mosque first. I wasn’t that committed; I used to pray regularly for only maybe a couple of months during the year, and that was during the special months of Ramadan and Muharram. But because my mother’s uncle and his wife told me that if someone didn’t pray then the blessing will be gone from that home, I was forced to pray while at their home. And the Quranic verse came to my mind: “We are from God and we return to God”, and I started to compare this verse to my relationship with my parents, and how I came from my mother and father, and how I am in communication with them – I hear from them, they hear from me – and I thought: “So how come God can hear me speaking to him, but I can’t hear him?” These thoughts led me to being convinced that there was a barrier between me and God.

2. At the same time as studying, I was working. My sister suggested that I take a course in hairdressing to change my mood and the direction of my thoughts. The hairdressing course near my uncle’s house was full, but I eventually found one that had space in a predominantly Armenian neighbourhood, where my uncle used to live. When I went to apply, the Armenian lady there told me: “I suggest you don’t take this course because most of the students here are Armenian.” I said: “Well, I really don’t care; I just want to do the course.”

3. After two months of doing this course, one day it was my turn to clean up after the class, and all of a sudden I fainted. When I next opened my eyes, I found that I was in my teacher’s arms, and she asked what had happened to me and whether she could pray for me. I agreed and thought that maybe she would pray later for me, but she immediately brought out a Bible and started praying for me. I felt a great sense of peace, as if a bucket of cold water had been poured over me and I felt very free and liberated, as if I had just been born. However, I didn’t associate it with Christianity or anything, but just the prayer that had helped me to feel that way.

4. Two weeks passed and she asked me: “How are you doing?” I answered: “Really well; I’m doing really well!” Then, on the last day of the course she called me into her room and gave me a New Testament and said: “I’ll lend this to you, and inside it you’ll find the answer to your questions.” Then she gave me the address of a church and said: “The gospel is preached in Persian in this church; they hold services at the weekend.” After my course ended, I left my uncle’s home and went back to Isfahan to see my family.

5. One day my mother found the New Testament in my bag. She is from a very religious family – my uncle is responsible for taking people to Mecca on tours, and my mother herself was very, very religious back then; you could only see her eyes through her chador [long Islamic dress]. She told me that she and my father had given me permission to go to a different city in order to study, and not to busy myself with this “other rubbish”. She said that she wouldn’t ever forgive me if I had stepped into a church to get “that book” [the Bible]. I told her I was only looking after the book for somebody else, but she said: “You’re no longer allowed to go to university. You can sit your exams, but you’re not allowed to go there and take classes.”

6. I was about to finish university anyway – it was my last term – and despite what my mother had said I thought I should take a gift for my course teacher, just to thank her. When I met her, she asked me: “Did you find the answer to your questions?” I said: “No, but I’ve only read about 30 pages.” She then said three sentences, and those three sentences were enough to bring me to repentance. She said: “We have all sinned, and our sins are a barrier between us and God. He sent his son to remove that barrier. And now we can be forgiven through it.” Those three sentences were enough for me to say: “I really want this; this is what I’ve been looking for.” I sensed the same presence that I felt when she was praying for me, and cried and asked her what I needed to do.

7. She prayed for me, and during the prayer she of course mentioned that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died on the Cross, but although I was from a very religious [Muslim] background, I never felt that I had any disagreement or questions about these statements. On the contrary, I even felt that this was something I could believe in. Things seemed so crystal clear for me that I had no doubt. So this time when I returned home, the issue wasn’t just that I had a Bible, but that I had converted!

Peyman

8. My name is Abbas Kiani, known as Peyman. I was born on 19 January 1975 in Khorramshahr. I think it was around November 2005 when I converted to Christianity. A couple of my friends told me about Christ, and they also gave me a New Testament. One of these friends was later arrested alongside my wife and me. I always considered myself a “seeker”, so I was impacted by what my friends told me about Christ, but I was initially unsure. But later, when I read the New Testament, I accepted that it was the Word of God, so reading the scriptures was the final decision-making point that led me to Christ.

9. At that time, I hadn’t told my family about my faith. My family, especially my mum, were thinking about who I might marry, and suggested one or two of my female relatives, but because I was a Christian I decided that I definitely wanted to marry a Christian girl. And a couple of years later, in a house-church group, I got to know Leila, and after I while I suggested we should get married. After that I told my mum that I had become a Christian and that I wanted to marry a Christian girl.

House-church activities

Leila

10. My prayer changed from being about me to: “Lord I want to see my family with you in eternity!” It took about seven months for my whole family, one after the other, to convert to Christianity. My mood and attitude had changed so much that my friends were really wondering what the cause was. Their interest led me to share more about how I had become a Christian, and everything that had happened to me, and in a short period of time 10 or 12 of my friends converted as well.

11. I was working in Tehran, so I started joining the house-church meetings there and became involved in ministry very shortly after my conversion. On Thursdays I would take a bus to Isfahan, arriving there on Friday morning, then spend a day with the house-church there, teach them what I had learned in Tehran, and go back to start the working week on Saturday. By then, my family had moved to Tehran. But every week I used to go back to Isfahan to have a meeting with the house-church group. This ministry continued to grow, and many converted to Christianity. People from other towns and cities near Isfahan also came to know about Christ, and small groups and house-churches began to develop.

Arrest

12. In February 2013 our daughter, Armita, was one year and one month old, and we had just given her a triple vaccination and were told that she may get signs of fever within a week or so. But she didn’t show any of those signs until three weeks passed. It was on the day when all the leaders of the different house-churches were due to meet that she started developing a fever. I was responsible for the house-churches in Isfahan and some other cities, so I had to attend. I gave my daughter some medication to control the fever, and my husband and I took our daughter with us to the meeting.

13. Between 15 to 20 minutes of our meeting had passed when suddenly the doorbell rang. It was unusual, because we weren’t expecting anyone. Ramin, who was the host, opened the door, and suddenly a group of intelligence-service officers raided the house. It was a Wednesday when we were arrested, but we found out that we had been under surveillance for two months. The agents had identified the key people, and knew about the different places we used to hold house-church meetings, but they didn’t arrest us until they realised that the top leaders of all these house-churches were coming together at a certain time, and that was when they raided the meeting.

Peyman

14. We arrived at around 7.30 in the evening. About 20 minutes later, we heard the knock on the door. Ramin looked through the keyhole and told us there were a couple of Basijis [part of the Revolutionary Guard Corps] standing outside. Our leader said: “OK, open the door.” And as soon as it was opened, these people stormed the house. Our leader asked them which institution they were from, and they said, in a very harsh tone and loud voice: “We are officers of the Ministry of Intelligence!” They were really harsh, rebuking us and telling us not to speak to one another. We were also told not to move, and to stay where we were; then they started filming and taking pictures.

15. As they were filming, they wanted us to introduce ourselves – every single person. After the filming session was done, they said: “Now the ladies can cover their heads.” They told us that everyone should write their names on all the papers that were on the table in front of us, and then they confiscated them, as well as all our other personal things, like our bank cards, mobile phones, ID cards, and everything we had. And they put labels on everything and wrote the name of the person each one belonged to, and took everything with them. I was in a total state of shock.

Leila

16. They had told us not to move or to touch anything, and not even to put our headscarves on. They started taking pictures and filming so that they could later claim that we had gathered inappropriately and without wearing headscarves. Their behaviour was very aggressive and violent. They treated us, especially the women, like a bunch of prostitutes. But the worst thing was the way they looked at us.

17. At the same time, Armita’s fever escalated and her neck became swollen. One of the officers pointed this out, and I was really worried about why, all of a sudden, this was happening to her. I said: “This is serious; we need to take this little girl to the hospital!” But they treated us really badly and said: “Shut up! You don’t need to do anything! We say what needs to happen here!” One of the officers accompanying them was a woman in a chador, and I told her: “If you have a child, you understand what I’m going through right now. I really don’t care what you are going to do to us, but my child needs medical care right now!”

18. As I was questioning their unfair treatment of us, they became a little more aggressive and raised their voices. One of their chief officers noticed that something was going on and said: “Bring her over here. I want to know what’s happening.” I was hoping that he would allow me to take my daughter to receive the medical care she needed, because that would also be my chance to raise the alarm for the other Christian believers in other cities. The chief officer played the “good cop” and allowed me to do that, and ordered the officer who had been very rude to take our family to the hospital. As we were going to the hospital, using phrases like “You are a traitor” he tried to intimidate us. But I tried to use this situation to speak to him about Christianity. We were worried about our daughter, but more than that we were worried that other members of the house-church might also be arrested.

19. When we arrived at the doctor’s, the intelligence-service officer asked us to leave the door open so that he could see what was happening inside. But I used the opportunity in a blind corner of the room to grab a pen and write on a piece of paper: “We are Christians; we’ve been arrested, and I need help.” As soon as the doctor read it, she thought that my husband was an officer and said: “This gentleman needs to step outside as well.” My husband left the room, and I wrote a phone number on a piece of paper, then asked the doctor to please call the number and inform the person on the other end that we had been arrested. I also explained that the call had to be made from a public payphone. I don’t want to name the person to whom the phone number belonged, because they are still in Iran. So the doctor examined our daughter, wrote a prescription, and we went to buy the medicine. Actually, I initially forgot to tell her to call from the public payphone, so when I got the medication, I said to the officer: “I need to go and show this to the doctor to make sure I’ve got the right medicine.” And inside the doctor’s room, I told her: “Can you please make sure you call from a public phone?”

20. After the medical examination, the intelligence officer didn’t take us back to where we were arrested. Together with three other agents, he took us home and told us that our property needed to be searched. We were asked: “Do you have CCTV?” When we said that we did, the officers put on balaclavas before entering. At our house we had stored several books and CDs and other resources for the different house-churches that we were serving. We also had a large picture of the Last Supper on the wall. I said to them that I had bought it when my husband and I were engaged, so it was something really special for me. I asked them whether they might consider not taking that picture, but they responded: “Madam, we need to take everything that we find that is associated with Christianity.”

21. While they were still searching the house, I made some tea, sat down, and drank the tea while feeding my daughter. I asked the officers whether they would like a cup of tea, and I think they were a bit surprised, because I had a very ill daughter, I’d been arrested, they were going through my property, and yet I was sitting there, having tea and offering them some. I don’t know what went through their minds, but one of them made a phone call and told me: “Madam, we don’t need to take that Last Supper picture.”

Peyman

22. We drove with our own car to our home, so an officer was sent to accompany us, while the other officers followed with another vehicle. They searched everywhere and confiscated our satellite receiver and all the Christian literature and Bibles that we had, as well as our personal notes, which altogether amounted to about seven or eight bags full. Our house was kind of the main place also used by other leaders to store books. They also confiscated our computers, ID cards, mobile phones, personal photographs, and everything else they could manage. Then they gave us an itemised list to sign, and said: “Tomorrow, at nine o’clock, you have to report to this office.” So that night we weren’t detained.

Leila

23. For years I was teaching people that when God allowed Peter or the other apostles to go to prison, it was God himself who allowed that to happen; it wasn’t because the authorities had the power over them, but God had allowed it to happen. So having this in mind gave me peace to accept the reality. I tried to memorise the faces of the officers that night, and even that same night I began to pray for them, challenging myself that Christ had died for them too.

24. As the officers were leaving the house, the same officer who had made the phone call and allowed us to keep the Last Supper picture said to my husband: “Please tell your wife to forgive us and pray for us.” Hearing that from a person in that kind of work, and in the midst of it all – being treated the way they treated us and so on – was another sign for me that God’s hand was at work. From 11pm until three in the morning, they searched our property and made a list of the things they were going to confiscate. Because of our daughter’s ill health, an officer said we didn’t need to come with them at that moment but had to report to the office of the intelligence service the following day. 

Intelligence service office

25. The office was more of a private house that had been turned into an office. However, there were no signs indicating that it was an office. The first thing that happened was that they put some paper in front of me and asked me to write down the names of everyone I knew who was involved in house-churches. I wrote my own name, and the names of my two sisters: Sara, who had also been arrested that night, and Atena. I didn’t even write the names of the others who were with us that night. The officer read the names I had written and banged his fist on the table, saying: “Are you mocking us? You’d better start cooperating! Write down every name that you know!” I responded that I would only write about myself and my family – nobody else.

26. It turned out that the rude officer from the day before was my interrogator. He tried to be harsh, but the more senior officer, again playing the good cop, said that what I had done was OK and that I was allowed to just write about myself. So I began to write my testimony, but they were expecting me to write about my ministry, not my testimony. In the first interrogation the officers said that they were aware of all our house-church activities and wanted me to call my sister Samira – who is known as Atena – who had been in a meeting in a different city that night, to also come to the office. My younger sister, Sara, had already been detained, and they said: “She [Atena] needs to be with you in this office on Saturday. If she doesn’t show up, we won’t release Sara.” It was a Thursday, and Friday was a day off, so that’s why we were told to return on Saturday. 

Peyman

27. We had also taken our daughter [to the office] and she wasn’t feeling well, so we had been separated and the officers started asking a few questions. Then they looked at our daughter and realised it was not really suitable for her to stay, so they said that we could return home and come back on Saturday. So on Saturday, Leila and I again went to the office of the intelligence service, this time with Atena, and they separated us. Our interrogator introduced himself as “Mr Ghassemi”.

28. The questions I was asked were: “When did you convert? Have you been baptised? Where do you live? Where did you get hold of these books?” As soon as he found out that I was working in a governmental institution, he became even more angry and said: “You take money from the government and now you’ve converted to Christianity!”

29. He also asked me: “Have you travelled abroad?” I answered that I had been to Turkey and the UAE – Dubai. He said: “Oh, so you are a spy of the Turkish and Emirates governments!” I just calmly said: “No, you can’t possibly accuse me of that.” Then we were taken to the court for a brief hearing. First Atena, and then me.

Leila

30. That Saturday I wasn’t allowed to enter the building, so I stayed outside. Atena and Peyman were questioned, then they were brought out, put in a car and driven away. I asked: “Where are you taking them?” The officers responded: “It’s none of your business!” It was really disconcerting not to know where they had been taken, or where the others were who had been arrested that night. I made my way home with my daughter and cried the whole way; I didn’t know what was going to happen to them or where I had to go to find out some information about them.

Indictment in court

Peyman

31. Two officers of the Ministry of Intelligence entered the courtroom with us. One stood behind me, and the other, Ghassemi, sat right next to the judge. The first question the judge asked me was: “Who evangelised to you?” I didn’t want to implicate my friends, so I said: “I listened to a Christian radio station, and that’s where I heard about it [Christianity].” Then he asked where I got the books from. I answered: “I used to go to this Assemblies of God church. They had a bookshop and I used to buy them from there.” He asked: “Do you have any defence?” I said that I didn’t. At the end, he said: “According to the law, you have the right to defend yourself, because you are a Christian. But if you were a Baha’i, you wouldn’t even have that chance!” Then he read out my charges [“propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran by establishing a group and recruiting people to membership of Evangelical Zionist Christianity, in collaboration with foreign elements; establishing house-churches and meetings and providing illegal books and CDs in order to recruit more members to oppose to the holy regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran; inappropriate relations; possession of satellite receivers”], and the judge issued a bail of 20 million tomans [around $5,000] and sent me off to the detention centre – the central detention centre of Isfahan, Dastgerd.

Leila

32. I called the number that I found for the Ministry of Intelligence, and said: “My husband and sister [Atena] have been arrested, and my other sister [Sara] has been taken away and detained. Atena really needs to take medication every day.” As soon as I said that they had been arrested, the person on the phone was unwilling to say anything about their whereabouts. After I explained that my sister really needed to take her medication, I was told that they were being held in Ward “A.T.”, in Dastgerd Prison. It was some sort of comfort to at least know where they were being held. So I decided to take the medication and go to the prison. 

33. When I arrived at the prison, I was told off and asked harshly why I had come and who had told me where my family members were being held. “You shouldn’t be aware of this sort of thing!” they said. I tried to explain that I had come for my sister, whom I was worried about. I had also packed a plastic bag for each of them, with clothing and a little money and the other items I thought they would need inside prison. But the officers told me that I wasn’t allowed to pass on any of the bags. “You can only offer one to your husband,” they said. “Your sisters aren’t being held here anyway. They’ve been taken somewhere else. None of these things can be given to them. The only thing that you can send to your sisters is a bank card with money on it.”

34. I had to wear a chador to be allowed in, and this made it more difficult to hold my daughter with one hand and the plastic bag with the other. I had to walk a really long way to reach the Alef-Ta [A.T.] ward. It was about a 15-minute walk and throughout the long walk I was thinking about my encounter with my husband – how good it would be to see him again. Also, my daughter had missed her father so much, and it would be an opportunity for them to meet at least briefly. Arriving at a door, I knocked on it and I asked what I was doing there. I answered that I had to give the bag I was holding to my husband. But I was told: “OK, give it to us. We’ll give it to him.” I responded: “No, I want to give it to him personally!” But the officers said: “No! You’re not able to see him.” I didn’t want to accept it, and asked: “So if that was the case, why didn’t they [the other officers] take the plastic bag from me at the door but made me come all the way here?” I was really disappointed and tried to put on a brave face, but as soon as I turned, I started crying, and continued crying all the way back, with a sense of deep disappointment.

35. Soon my attention turned to trying to find out about the bail amount that the others who had been arrested would later have to deposit to be released. I knew some of the detained believers and their families would be able to put together the money, but there were two others who I knew would struggle. One of them was a girl whose father had passed away, and her family didn’t have enough savings to pay for her bail. The other was a lady who was from a very religious family, who were against her Christian belief, and I knew that they wouldn’t pay her bail.

36. For days my regular routine was either to go to the prison to find out some information about the detainees or to go to the Revolutionary Court to follow up on their cases. I had been told that I should be really thankful that my daughter had been ill that day, otherwise I would have been arrested as well, because they said they knew I was responsible for a lot of the things we did. They told me: “You owe your freedom to your daughter!”

37. One of the detained women was one of the early disciples of the group, who had converted to Christianity because of my testimony, and I felt responsible for her. So when I was told that I should have been arrested, I said: “I don’t mind if you arrest me, as long as you release this other lady.” Now I am telling you what I said calmly, but back then I was really sobbing as I said it. I remember my father asking me: “Why did you say that?” And I answered: “Dad, my sisters have me, and you, and others to look after them, but that girl doesn’t have anyone, so it’s only fair that I would take her place. The same sort of feeling that you have for us, your children, I have for her. To me, she’s no different from my own daughter.”

Family

Peyman

38. To my family it seemed more significant that I was going to lose my job because of my conversion than what was happening to me at that moment. One of the first questions they asked me was: “What is going to happen to your job now? Are you going to lose it, or not?” On the way to prison, the officials found out who my family members were through my phone, and they contacted my older brother and told him they had arrested me. Apart from my mum, my family didn’t know about my conversion, so when they all of a sudden heard about me being a Christian, together with the news of my arrest, they considered my wife to be the source of all these issues and really treated her badly while I was in prison.

Leila

39. When Peyman’s brother was informed about the arrest, he was so mad, saying: “My brother had nothing to do with these sort of things before he met you! If anything happens to my mother or any other member of my family, you will be held accountable!” Later I tried to explain to Peyman’s family that he had converted about four years before he met me, so I hadn’t been responsible for his conversion, and that the fact he hadn’t told them about his belief was his choice, not mine. But they considered me the source of all the problems, and thought my husband only became a Christian because of me.

Dastgerd Prison

Peyman

40. The rest of those arrested that night were taken straight to the “Alef-Ta” ward, which belongs to the Ministry of Intelligence. But the officer who took me didn’t know I was in the same group, so he sent me to the general ward, where they told me to take off my clothes, apart from my vest and shirt, and put on prison clothes. Later on, when I had been taken to Alef-Ta, I took off the trousers that were given to me and washed them, because I have a strong sense of smell and they smelled really badly of urine. They took a mugshot of me, and also my fingerprints. The officers actually wanted to shave my head as well. But they didn’t after I told them I was a prisoner of the Ministry of Intelligence. It was then that I saw our pastor and a couple of other friends from our group. They were also about to have their mugshots and fingerprints taken, and they told me about the types of questions they had been asked during interrogations and what information the agents already knew, and found out that they knew that I had been baptised, and where. I hadn’t been going to admit that I had been baptised because I knew the Ministry of Intelligence agents were sensitive about this kind of thing, but now I knew they already had this information.

41. At about 5.30pm they took me to the ward that belonged to the Ministry of Intelligence. First I was brought to a small room, by myself – a really cold room. Half an hour later they moved me to another room, where there were two other prisoners who were drug-smugglers. At 9pm I was told: “You need to go for your interrogation.” They blindfolded me to take me there. My interrogator was Mr Ghassemi, who had also interrogated me in the morning. In the morning I had been able to see him, but this time I was blindfolded. Nonetheless I knew from the tone of his voice that it was the same person.

42. The interrogation room was very cold and my trousers were still wet from washing them. He asked me a question and asked me to write down the response on a piece of paper. I was only allowed to lift the blindfold enough to see the paper and pen. I was asked way too many questions: “When did you convert? How did you convert? Why did you convert? Have you been baptised? Who baptised you? How many trips have you been on? Why did you go on these trips? Who were your teachers during these conferences? How did you buy your books? Who did you evangelise to?” 

43. Because we were arrested as a group, the interrogator did parallel interrogations. He would write down three questions for me, then leave spaces on the paper so I could write down my answers. Then, while I was writing, he would leave the room and return in 15 minutes, look at the answers and exchange notes with the other people who were interrogating the other house-church members. Then he would come back with some more questions. I knew they already had the answers to some of the questions they asked, like what trips I’d made, so I answered those questions. When I was asked to tell them about my ministry, and who I used to meet, I mentioned people’s nicknames, and not their real names, even though I knew them. I also tried to protect my wife and to downplay her role, so that she wouldn’t get into trouble. It was around 1.30 or 2am by the time I returned to my cell. 

44. During my interrogation I could hear another interrogator interrogating one of my friends in a very aggressive way. And I prayed: “Lord, please don’t allow him to be my interrogator!” He shouted really loudly and was really aggressive. As I was being taken to my cell, he stepped out into the corridor, and I could see his purple striped shirt and big stomach from the corner of my blindfold – after that we called him “Purple Shirt”. And he asked: “Who is this? Is he one of those guys? Is he with them?” The officers said that I was. “Is he the one working in the governmental office?” he asked. They answered: “Yes, it’s true.” Then he turned to me and said: “So, what are you going to do now? You’re going to lose your job!” I answered: “God is faithful. He will find a way.” Then I asked: “Sir, could I possibly call my family and ask how they are doing?” And he said: “No! No chance!” And I was returned to my cell.

45. I was held there for a few days and then I had to move to another cell again. This time I shared my cell with a man who used to be a teacher. I’m a tough man, I hardly ever cry, but I don’t know what happened to me during those days, especially the first few days – I would start crying really easily all the time. Even when I was offered food, I just looked at my food and thought: “When they came and confiscated everything in our house, they also took my bank cards, so how will my wife be able to buy food?” I was crying all the time, like Jeremiah!

46. Mr “Purple Shirt” seemed to be playing “bad cop” throughout the different wards, and because I was blindfolded, you didn’t know when or where he would come from, and you were always worried that he would suddenly come from somewhere and hit you over the head with something.

47. It took about 11 days from the first to the last interrogation session. This period of uncertainty, and not knowing what was going to happen, was really hard for me. I was worried sick about my family. I was also hoping that I would be released soon enough that I could return to my job. But, unbeknown to me, the intelligence service had already called my workplace and told my employer on what grounds I had been arrested. During my last interrogation, on the 11th day of my detention, Mr Ghassemi, who no longer asked me to wear a blindfold, again put some papers in front of me and repeated the same sort of questions.

48. During my 12 days of detention, they allowed me to call home twice. I was only allowed fresh air for half an hour – I had to go onto the roof of the Alef-Ta ward. I also caught a severe cold, and the officials agreed to take me to the medical unit in the prison and give me some medication, but this didn’t help anyway. The cells were small and there was just a half-metre wall that separated the room from the toilet and shower area. So if you wanted to go to the toilet or take a shower, there wasn’t a door – it was just open. And if you had a cellmate, you weren’t comfortable.

49. Finally they put a form in front of me, a sort of commitment that I had to sign, saying that I would from now on respect the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran and no longer attend any house-church services. The interrogator said: “If you want to be released, you need to sign this.” I had already endured enough pressure by that point and I really wanted to be released, so I signed. On the 12th day, at 4.30pm, the officials came to my cell and told me: “You’re free to go.” It took about an hour and a half to sign everything that needed to be signed, so by six o’clock I was out of prison. Although it was cold, I didn’t wait in the waiting area inside the prison for my family to come to pick me up. Instead I decided to wait outside prison, in the cold.

50. When my wife, my daughter and my wife’s family arrived to pick me up, they couldn’t even recognise me. My beard had grown and I was a completely different shape. For the first three or four days in prison I had been reluctant to eat any prison food – I could only eat maybe one spoonful, but that was all. And one of the reasons I’d grown a beard was that we had to buy razor blades ourselves. I’d had some cash with me when I was taken to prison – about 40,000 tomans [around $10] – but there was this soldier who tricked me, saying: “Oh, don’t worry, give me your money and I’ll buy you telephone cards, which you’ll need in prison.” So I gave him the money and he took it and gave me 20 cards; he made a little profit out of it. And after that I couldn’t buy anything else; I’d spent all my money on telephone cards, and didn’t have any money to buy razor blades.

51. The day I was released was a Wednesday. I didn’t work on Thursdays or Fridays, so it was on Saturday that I went back to work. During my detention, some people from my office had called my wife, asking her to come and explain what had happened. So after my release Leila told me about that call. But despite knowing about this, I went to work hoping things could be smoothed over.

Peyman’s job

Leila

52. When I had gone to Peyman’s workplace, I had asked his employers for a leave of absence for him, but they’d said: “Your husband has betrayed his country! And now you’re helping him?” However, they also added: “We’re very surprised and feel bad about losing him. Please tell him to renounce his Christian faith, because we want him back here.” I explained that I didn’t know what they had heard, but being a Christian wasn’t just a hobby where you could just change your mind like that!

Peyman

53. Before I was taken to prison, my office had been moved next to the Deputy Governor’s. As usual, I went behind my desk and went to turn on the computer, but it wasn’t there. About half an hour after my arrival, the officer in charge of internal security came and called me to his office. He said: “Unfortunately you can’t continue with your work unless the Ministry of Intelligence agrees to it. After that incident was reported to us, people from the Governor’s security office came and took your computer and looked into your hard drive, but they couldn’t find anything, so they said, ‘Probably he wasn’t very involved, because we couldn’t find anything on his computer.’ So we may be able to do something… If you renounce your faith, express regret, and leave this path and return to Islam, I think we can do something – especially because you have been a very exemplary worker.” But I couldn’t accept these conditions, so as a result I left. After that day, I called a few times, as they had requested, but there was never anything new, no developments.

54. When I went to try to get back my belongings from the Ministry of Intelligence, I even pleaded with my interrogator, Ghassemi, about my job, telling him: “I separated my work and my personal beliefs. I didn’t even share my faith with my colleagues. And I tried to work as best as I could in my work.” But he told me: “We can’t allow sick people like you to work and prosper in the Islamic Republic of Iran!” So I wasn’t allowed to work again, nor did I even receive any official documentation confirming that I had been fired from my job. They still paid me for two months after my arrest, but then they stopped, and they never called me again. Being expelled from work had a big impact on me, and was, psychologically, a major blow.

55. I had a master’s degree in geography and had been looking for employment for quite some time before I found that job. And I really put my heart into it and performed really well. So losing my job was really difficult. I had been through a lot of effort and filtering to get that job and was officially employed on a permanent basis. I had also been promoted. I was so confident of success in that job that I had long-term plans for how things would go, even until my retirement. My job had also given me a sense of respect in my family and society. Even now, years later, many times in my dreams I see myself going back to work. But in 99% of my dreams, my bosses won’t accept me back.

Fleeing Iran

Leila

56. Gradually, one after the other, the bail amounts were put together and the detainees were released. Every time one of them was released, I felt like a part of my body was returned to me. This feeling, the care and love that was pouring out of me, showed me that all I had been doing these years was more than just duty. After we were released, our pastor told us that we needed to leave the country. We said that we really didn’t want to, and that we would pray about it and wouldn’t go if we didn’t feel led to.

57. As we were contemplating what we should do, both of us, my husband and I, were given one-year prison sentences. The sentence was for our house-church activities, plus 60 lashes for not having proper Islamic head coverings in the house where we were arrested, and a fine for the satellite receivers that had been found in the house. In the court, the judge addressed me first, then my sister Sara and my other sister, Atena; then finally the rest of the group. He spent about half an hour with each of us three sisters, but only five minutes with each of the rest.

58. We prayed before the court began: “Lord, whoever you allow to preside over our cases, please speak to his heart.” When I was given the permission to speak, I pointed to the scales that are part of the judiciary’s logo, to use it as a conversation starter to talk about the justice of God and share my faith with the judge. I said to him: “This is what the God I have come to know is like. Do you think it’s wrong to share this God with my friends?” During my speech, the court clerk came and brought some papers to the judge and, with a hand gesture, he motioned: “Just leave them here.” He didn’t want anything to interrupt our conversation; he was interested to hear the rest. Then he heard a similar kind of story from my sisters.

59. A few months later, when we went to find out about the ruling, the judge saw us and said, in a very humble manner: “If it were up to me, I would honestly not even write a one-day prison sentence for you. What the prosecutor had suggested was a very heavy prison sentence for you all, and the Ministry of Intelligence was behind this, pushing for a heavy sentence. If it were up to them, a 10-year prison sentence or more would have been prescribed. I could only reduce it to one year.”

60. The one-year sentence meant that, because of our daughter’s young age, we would have to take her to prison as well. So Peyman said: “If it was just me and you, that would have been fine, but we can’t make this choice for our daughter too.” Apart from this, even after our house-church members were all released, we felt we were always being watched. There was a car always parked opposite our house, and we felt that our every move was being watched. So we prayed for our future and came to the final decision that we needed to leave Iran. But although we were reassured that this was what God had led us to do, still emotionally we weren’t reconciled to it.

61. During this time, instead of gathering again in house-churches, we adopted a different strategy, calling people and meeting up in the park, or different places, trying to basically hand over the ministry and provide a smooth transition to another group before we left the country. Later on, we realised that if we had stayed, probably our ministry wouldn’t have been that successful, and in fact we would have put others at risk of being arrested.