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Iran: “The interrogator said: ‘Where is your Jesus now?'”

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.

“‘As a mother there was nothing I could do to calm my child and it was very painful,’” Article 18, July 14, 2023:

Amid and Sanaz’s son Danial was just four years old when Ministry of Intelligence agents came to arrest his parents.

The agents – three male, two female – first searched the family’s home and confiscated anything that could conceivably be considered related to Christianity, including some of Danial’s toys.

“‘Why are you taking that?’ I asked when an agent took away one of my son’s toys: a Santa in a snow globe,” Sanaz recalls. “He said: ‘It’s a symbol of Christianity, and should be confiscated!’”

“My son was crying profusely and wanted his tablet and toys,” Amid says. “It was very painful to see my son’s fear and tears.”

Amid and Sanaz had converted to Christianity a few years earlier, and after the Persian-speaking church they had been attending was told it could no longer welcome converts, they had started hosting church services in their home.

By the time of their arrest, in December 2015, Amid and Sanaz had been hosting church services for around three and a half years, and Amid says that “for a while” they had been anticipating the day of their arrest.

Because of this, he explains, the couple had even cancelled their Christmas party that year, and had hidden some of their personal items, like their passports, baptism certificates, and computer, which contained information about the names of church members, as well as audio files of sermons and worship songs.

They also had a number of Bibles and Christian books hidden away in a corner of their yard, covered with a cloth, and although the agents searched the house from 6.30 in the morning until noon, they didn’t find them.

But they did find the family’s Christmas trees.

“The agent took them and said: ‘They haven’t got just one or two, but three trees!’” Sanaz explains. “‘Now we’ll take you and give you a lecture so that from now on you celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad!’”

Amid’s elderly parents lived on the floor above them, and “cried a lot” during their arrest, Amid says, and asked: “Sir, where are you taking them? What will happen to them?” 

“The officers didn’t answer their questions,” Amid says, “though one of them eventually lied: ‘In the afternoon or tomorrow, they’ll return home.’ Then he said to my son: ‘Don’t worry, your mum will come back soon and clean the house.’ My father, mother and son were crying, and mine and my wife’s hearts were full of pain.”

Sanaz adds: “My son Danial was afraid of the behaviour of the agents, and was crying, and now he was going to be left without us, and had to stay with his grandparents. I asked an agent to let me hold my son for a minute before leaving, but he wouldn’t allow it!”

Amid and Sanaz were then driven away, and detained separately in unknown locations – in conditions Amid describes as “excruciating”, and “like hell” – for 18 and seven days, respectively, during which time they were repeatedly interrogated about their Christian activities, threatened, and told to “repent and return to Islam”.

At first, they were also refused permission to call their son, but even when this permission was eventually granted, they were made to regret it.

“When I called, my husband’s family picked up the phone and cried when they heard my voice and said: ‘Where are you?’” Sanaz recalls. “‘Since the day you left, your child has only been crying and won’t stop!’ I could hear Danial crying. As a mother, there was nothing I could do to calm my child and it was very painful. I talked to my son for about two to three minutes. Hearing my son crying made me feel worse and I said to myself that I wish I hadn’t called.

“After I ended the call, the interrogator said: ‘Where is your Jesus now? You heard your child crying; now calm him down!’ I said: ‘I didn’t do anything bad or wrong!’ He said: ‘You changed the thinking of a generation, and you say I didn’t do anything!’”

After Sanaz’s release on bail, she was summoned again and told that her husband would only be released if they both signed two blank promissory notes, which essentially meant pledging to pay an unknown person the equivalent of $200,000.

“We want to be reassured that you won’t continue your Christian activities once you are released,” the interrogator explained to Amid when he was asked to add his signature to the notes. “If you start your activities again, we’ll arrest you, and this time we’ll take you to the prison because the promissory notes show you owe a lot of money!”…

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