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Iran: Convert to Christianity faced charges of ‘acting against national security and the Islamic Republic’

The Iranian government targets converts to Christianity because it considers them to be apostates and thus threats to the foundation of the state. 

The U.S. State Department has classified Iran as a “country of particular concern” for “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“‘If I no longer encourage people to use drugs, is this against Islam and Iran?,’” Article 18, May 11, 2022:

Nima Rezaei, born in the year of the Iranian Revolution, was just one month old when his father died.

The impact of this event on him and his mother was so profound that, as a teenager, it led him to stray onto the wrong path, culminating in a 13-year battle against drug addiction.

By his late twenties, Nima was not only an addict but a dealer.

But everything changed one day in 2006, when after finally overcoming his addiction with the help of Narcotics Anonymous, Nima became a Christian.

According to his friends, even Nima’s face changed.

For the first time in his adult life, Nima says he was “able to talk with people without embarrassment, having become a useful member of society, working, and taking responsibility for my life”.

But Nima was soon to discover that not everyone perceived the transformation in his life as a positive.

Just a year after joining a house-church, Nima had his first encounter with agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence Service (MOIS).

After concurrent raids on the homes of his father-in-law and his wife’s two uncles, Nima and the other members of his house-church were summoned to appear at the MOIS building in Nowshahr, north Iran, the following day.

Taken into separate rooms, the Christians were interrogated about their faith and religious activities.

When Nima told his interrogator that his conversion had changed his life for the better, his interrogator told him he was a “toy and accomplice of Israel”, intent on “destroying Islam by using Christianity”.

Nima replied: “I don’t know anything about Israel… You know very well why I’m here now; you know from my past that I was an addict and a drug-dealer. But today God has healed me and changed the course of my life. What harm can I do to this country, or Islam, that you are cursing me like this? If I no longer steal, will that be an attack against Islam? If I no longer encourage people to become addicted to drugs but instead spend time with them to help them rid themselves of the disease of addiction and turn from this way, is this against Islam and this country?”

Nima added that his life-changing experience had meant that rather than being a threat, he was now “actually beneficial to society”.

But his interrogator was not persuaded, threatening Nima with execution and adding: “You are infidels who are against this regime and our country!”

Nima was eventually released after being forced to sign a pledge to have no further involvement in Christian activities.

Ten days later, Nima received another call from the MOIS, this time summoning him to attend a “re-education” session with an Islamic cleric.

“We talked with this theologian for a few hours,” Nima explains, “and it felt like the whole aim was to try to coax answers forms that would cause us further trouble if we were arrested. They filmed the whole meeting, so our conversations could be used as additional evidence on top of the pledge they had already made us sign, and so they could file a more serious case against us.”

Initially, out of fear, the Christians stopped meeting together, but Nima says that “after a while, we began to consider alternatives, because as Christians we needed to go to church and be taught and grow [in our faith], but we no longer had a teacher, neither were we allowed to gather”.

In the end, the Christians decided to start attending an official Evangelical church in Tehran – an eight-hour round-trip from their homes by the Caspian Sea.

And even when the authorities began to demand that such churches submit the personal details of all their members, Nima and his friends were not dissuaded. They even wondered whether this might help them in the future.

“If we were arrested, we could [then] prove we hadn’t done anything secretly but had only attended official services as members of the church,” they concluded. “If we didn’t [register], we knew the agents of the MOIS wouldn’t accept whatever excuse we may give them.”

But just a few months after submitting a copy of his national ID card, Nima received another call from the MOIS.

And this time, instead of being interrogator for a few hours and then released, Nima was held in solitary confinement for 28 days….

By this point, his interrogations had begun. In his 28 days’ detention, Nima estimates that he was interrogated between 10 to 12 times, during which time he was pressured to “cooperate” by informing on other Christians, and threats were made against him, his wife and his daughter.

Finally, Nima was brought before a judge, who told him he was facing charges of “acting against national security and the holy regime of the Islamic Republic by promoting Christianity”.

“You were guided [in the session with the Islamic cleric],” the judge told him, “but still you didn’t become human again!”

In August 2012, Nima was sentenced to six months in prison, and, in order to secure the release of the property deed submitted by a friend for his bail, Nima decided to serve the sentence, which included a period of forced labour and further run-ins with Islamic clerics.

After his release, Nima says that he and his friends thought they would be left alone, but the pressure continued….

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