While we are getting terrifying information about ongoing extreme economic crisis, food shortage and continuous intimidation of people in Iran, the rogue Mullah Mafias are continuing harsh repressive acts on the religious minorities, especially Iranian Christians while there are information of arrest and rape of Christian females in the country.
Emma Safaei, a Christian female is one of the latest victims of harsh intimidations in Iran. In her statement, Emma said:
- My name is Azam Safaei, though now I prefer to be called Emma. I was born on 11 September 1977, and am originally from Khorasan [northeast Iran].
- I started playing music in my first year of secondary school, and continued throughout my time in school. I had a good voice, so I used it to recite the Quran in a tuneful way and, at prayer times, through recitation, I led people in prayer. I was a person bound by the rules of Islam. I got married after graduating from school, at the age of 19. After marrying my husband, Peyman, we went to Bandar Abbas [southern Iran] to start our own business, renting and servicing cars.
- When my three-year-old daughter became ill, the doctors couldn’t make a clear diagnosis and tell what type of hepatitis she was suffering from. She was in a coma for 10 days. During this time, a colleague in our company gave me a book by [motivational speaker] Wayne Dyer. I started to pray for my daughter, and asked God to heal her. She miraculously woke up from the coma, and the doctors were amazed by this. After that, I started reading various books. I also started to develop an interest in Christianity, and began to watch [Christian satellite channel] Mohabat TV. I loved the worship programmes a lot. After a while, I was praying in Persian and not in Arabic. I also did yoga and meditation.
- In 2004, I took part in writing classes. I attended about 10 or 11 times. I also had a blog at that time, where I published my stories. In the writing classes, I met an Assyrian woman by the name of Carmen. After a while, we became closer and I received my first Bible and “Jesus” film from this lady, who moved to the US many years ago. I started to copy and paste short stories from the Bible into my blog. Later, my blog was blocked. Then on the website “mypardis”, I started a group called “Christ, the Peace of My Heart”. There were 77 members in the group. I shared passages of the Bible there. This group was also blocked after a while.
- Later I was introduced to a house-church by another of the students at the writing classes, named Aram. I joined the house-church six months after converting to Christianity. When I joined the church, I no longer did social networking and instead served in the church. The house-church-meetings took place in a small home, so I offered to have the meetings at my home. We also had a garden around the house, so no sound could be heard from outside, but we still had to be careful and held meetings only irregularly because of security concerns. A year after I had become a Christian, while the house-church-meetings were being held at our house, my husband converted to Christianity. Once, we also conducted baptisms in our kitchen, in an inflatable pool.
Christians arrested in Kerman and Mashhad
- In July 2008, some Christians from Kerman and Sirjan were invited to a conference in Armenia for two weeks, organised by a Christian organisation. But they were arrested at the airport in Kerman. For that reason, our house-church wasn’t held for a while. Some of us bought anonymous SIM cards to stay in touch with each other.
- Two years later, my sisters were among around 20 Christians arrested. They had both been involved in house-church-meetings in Mashhad. Then, after a while, one of them had moved to Bojnourd [northwest of Mashhad]. Before that, meetings had also been held in her home, because the location for the house-church-meetings in Mashhad rotated.
- Another of my sisters was newly married and pregnant at that time. Some of the other Christians who had been detained told the agents that my sister had spoken with them about Christianity. Because of her pregnancy, the agents didn’t put much pressure on her, but she had to make a commitment [not to meet again with other Christians].
- About three months passed and we were waiting for our arrest, but nothing happened, so we started the meetings again. We would hold meetings by the sea, or in the park. At family gatherings we prayed with lowered voices and shared testimonies with each other. Then, six months after my sisters were arrested, I was arrested.
- That year, for Christmas, the plan was to bring together some of the house-church members from some other cities. Christmas Day of that year, 2010, was on a Saturday, but we celebrated with a few believers in our home the day before. Then, the day after Christmas, early in the morning, between 6.30-7am, somebody rang our doorbell. It was cloudy that day. I heard the bell, but I was still sleepy. Suddenly, my husband Peyman said loudly: “Get up, grab everything you can and clean up! The MOIS [Ministry of Intelligence Service] are here!” There were two cars, which drove around the house and searched the area to make sure there were no other ways out. Through the camera on our door we could see that they had quickly surrounded the house. I hid my laptop, diaries, and some other things above the cooker hood, which reached close to the ceiling, so no-one would guess there was storage room there. My husband was so scared that he screamed: “Hurry up, they are climbing the wall!” I quickly covered my head with a scarf and sat down. My children, Negar and Navid, woke up because of my husband being so loud. They were terrified and wanted to know what had happened. My daughter was in her first year of secondary school, and my son was in his first year of primary school. They were frightened, but they also noticed that I remained calm. The agents searched the house very quickly.
- Right at the beginning, when the agents entered, they showed us the arrest warrant, but they didn’t hand it over to us. I couldn’t read it; I only saw the stamp and signature on it. They had arrived with two cars. One of the agents was on guard outside the house, and four male agents entered the house. The driver was very rude; the others were better. One of the agents, who was in charge, angrily asked: “Why did it take you so long to open the door?” Another filmed everything, and the other two searched the house.
- Meanwhile, my son asked me for chocolate. We had bought special Christmas chocolate for the Christmas celebration, and it was in the same cabinet as where we kept our Christian books, but my son insisted on eating chocolate that instant! We were afraid of going to the cabinet; prior to that, the agents had quickly searched it and found nothing.
- I suppose that the MOIS thought we would celebrate Christmas on the Sunday, but in fact we had celebrated with a few believers in our home on the Friday. But when they opened the fridge and saw the remnants of the Christmas cake, they realised that we had already celebrated.
- One of them seemed to feel bad about my son and daughter looking frightened at the presence of the agents, and told Peyman and me to take them out of the room. I asked them to go into the garden. But out of curiosity, and also fear, from behind the curtain they tried to look inside the house. The agent told us to tell the children to stop looking inside the house, so I asked them to go and play in another part of the garden.
- The agents confiscated everything related to Christianity – paintings of the Last Supper and Jesus Christ; a beautiful carved wooden cross; a crystal glass cross we had bought from Kish [an island in the Persian Gulf]; different Christian books; a Bible in bold letters, which I had recently purchased for my mother; a video about heaven and hell that Aram had given me, which was translated into Persian. They also took the notes on the refrigerator; our passports and birth certificates; two computers; my psychology books; a keyboard; the satellite TV receiver; some yoga and meditation programmes I had recorded; and even the children’s cartoons. My children protested that they were theirDVDs, and the agents said they would return them, but they never did.
- They also confiscated the copy of my Christian friend Shabnam’s birth certificate. Shabnam and I had had the idea to start a new catering business, and in order to register the company Shabnam’s documents, including a copy of her birth certificate and national ID card, were at our house. When Peyman realised that they had taken Shabnam’s documents from the drawer, he told me and I was very surprised and upset; I couldn’t understand why they had taken her documents until I found out later that she too had been arrested. The agents piled up everything in the middle of our lounge. I had pictures of the church members, but I had hidden them in the cabinet and they couldn’t find them because, at the moment of their arrival, the lights had been curiously cut off, so for an hour they had had to search the house only with their mobile-phone torches, and they seemed to be in a hurry.
- Peyman was told to open the garage door; then they brought their car in, to take me with them. I sat behind the driver, and two agents sat next to me, one on either side. They had brought no blindfold with them, so I was told to keep my head down. The officer sitting in front helped the driver to get his jacket off, so he could cover my head with it; it was clear from his accent that he was from Bandar Abbas. The agent in charge said that it wasn’t necessary to cover my head; only that I should put my head completely between my knees.
- They kept driving around many different streets so that I couldn’t guess where or in what direction we were driving. Later, I found out that the place they took me was behind the Grand Bazaar [in Bandar Abbas]. I was blindfolded before getting out of the car, and given a kind of a rolled-up piece of paper to hold, while another person took the other end of it to guide me. There were people laughing at me and telling me to be careful not to fall.
- Agents had also gone to Shabnam and Aram’s homes at the same time. Aram wasn’t at his home, but on his way to work. When the agents arrived, his pregnant wife became very stressed and nauseous. They couldn’t find any important documents belonging to Shabnam or me there. A week before the arrest, both of us had decided to hide all our Christian things [Bibles, Christian books, CDs, etc.]; I had two photocopiers, one at the office and one at home, which I used to copy Christian books; I also took the one I had at home to the office. But they found a lot of other evidence in Aram’s home. He was a photographer, he had all kinds of cameras and he took a lot of photos of our family and friends’ gatherings. From his house they took his Bible, several books, documents and photographs. Through those photos in Aram’s home, the MOIS found out more information about our house-church. During our interrogations, Shabnam, Aram and I were asked about the names of the house-church members. We told them our names and the names of those who were born as Christians, but didn’t name the Christians who were from a Muslim background – but they were identified anyway because of the photos.
- On the Sunday that we were arrested, Shabnam’s mother and sister were also arrested in Khorramabad [western Iran]. At the same time that we were arrested, Christians in 23 other provinces were arrested. I found out about this through my interrogator, who arrogantly boasted about this.
- From the morning of my arrest, I wasn’t able to go to the bathroom. When I said I wanted to go, once again they gave me something to hold in my hands, so that no-one had to touch my hand, and guided me, blindfolded, to the bathroom. The toilet must have been very dirty; I heard someone pouring water into it to clean it a little. On the walls of the solitary-confinement cell, previous occupants had scribbled various images and sentences. Some were extremely rude. Some people before me had written their date of arrest. It was a dirty and small room, only just big enough for one person to sleep in. I couldn’t even walk around. It also had a small window. I prayed while standing. The prison environment was dirty and mostly made for men. The building was old and wet.
- The first night, they kept knocking on my cell door, saying that I should get ready for my interrogation, but never actually taking me to be interrogated. They wanted to prevent me from falling asleep, so I wouldn’t be able to rest, and would be tired and sleepy during the interrogations, and it was also a way to torture me.
- Then, when they eventually took me to the interrogation, a form was brought to me at the entrance door, before the stairs, but I didn’t see anyone’s face. The form was put in front of me, and while I was filling it out, a man asked me if I knew why I was there. I said: “Yes, because of Christianity,” and I also wrote that on the sheet. The officer said some insulting words and grabbed the sheet from under my hands; I heard him crumpling it. Then he said that I should be taken away. They had done the same with Shabnam and Aram, and behaved very aggressively. They probably thought that we would deny everything, but contrary to what they thought, we all professed to be Christian.
- I was told I had to take off my shoes and put on men’s slippers. Then, blindfolded, with someone directing me, I was taken to my interrogator, Mr Mahmoudi, who was an “expert” [a term used by the MOIS instead of “interrogator”], and spoke to me politely and respectfully. When he came, he started by saying: “We know everything about you, and we expect you, as Christians, to be honest and truthful. So answer all our questions honestly.” Then he said that I was allowed to take off my blindfold. When he asked me to explain how I came to believe in Jesus Christ and why I became a Christian, I tried to use the Bible, and even the Quran, to explain. Mahmoudi was speechless because of most of what I said; he had no answer. I spoke clearly about Christ, but I spoke indirectly about everything related to Islam, to avoid provoking him. He shook his head sometimes when I said how I had become a Christian, and twice he said: “It seems like your aim is to evangelise and make me become a Christian too – me converting to Christianity, and you saving yourself!” Once I was silent, but the second time he said that, I replied: “Amen, may it be so!”
- During the first interrogation he tried to persuade me that I was a good woman but had been deceived and manipulated by Christians. He said with great excitement that our arrest had been a major national operation and that he thought he had achieved a major victory. He also mentioned that they had been watching me for two years. But later I realised that it wasn’t true. Each provincial Ministry of Intelligence only had its own city-specific information, and they didn’t even know anything about my sisters being arrested three months before.
- I was given a form, on which I had to write my personal details, and there were also questions on it about my family members. I wrote about my sisters also being Christians. I thought they knew about their arrest. Later the interrogator tried to ask indirectly about their detention, so that his information was complete. They had no information at all. But then I resolved not to give them any extra information. I realised that they were getting a lot of information based on speculation and interrogation in prison. After that, I spoke much less.
- I was very tired. I had lost my sense of time. Islamic prayers, which are usually just played at prayer times, were played repetitively and irregularly. Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech about the death sentence for apostasy from Islam was also regularly played over the loudspeakers. After my first interrogation, I was taken to a very dirty room they call a “suite” [a simple small room holding up to five detainees], which had no windows. They gave me a blanket. The “suite” was carpeted, and my body itched because of the dust and dampness of the environment. The walls were painted only superficially; beneath the paint, writing from former prisoners could be seen on the walls. It was very depressing and suffocating.
- Twenty minutes later an officer came in; his job was to ask questions about my health and whether or not I was ill. Then they brought some food, still in its packaging, which I think they had ordered from a nearby restaurant. I asked for soap and they said that there wassoap. I told them that it was small and dirty. They laughed and said: “She thinks she’s come to a hotel!” My scalp was very itchy. It felt like I had been infested with lice, or bed bugs. They didn’t even give me soap to wash my hair, and again laughed at me: “She thinks she’s in a hotel!”
- I was interrogated again by Mahmoudi. In the first interrogation he didn’t mention the Christian organisation that organised the conference. He asked me if I had travelled abroad. I answered: “Yes, I went to Armenia to see the country and the old churches.” During the second interrogation, he said to me: “You promised to be honest with me!” He asked me if I knew Shabnam, and I said that I did. He said that she was very concerned about me. I explained that we had a very close, sisterly relationship. The interrogator said that Shabnam had admitted that the seminar in Armenia was organised by the Christian organisation. That was the moment I realised that Shabnam had also been arrested, but I still didn’t imagine that Aram was also in jail. I only found that out on my last day there, and that he had become sick and they had even brought a doctor for him.
- We had heard a lot about the rapes of women, and even men, during the detentions in 2009 [following protests]. Shabnam and I were close and had evangelised and served in the church together. We were not afraid of going to jail, but we were afraid of being raped. When the four men arrested me, the fear of being raped kept coming to my mind, and this made me suffer. My first prayer was: “May these men act with honour out of fear and respect for You.”
- Once, a man entered my solitary cell, with his shoes on, and other officers locked the door from the outside. I was very scared. He had a piece of paper in his hand, and he asked me medical questions. But after the interrogation ended, he asked, with a strange smile on his face: “Do you have experience being arrested? Does your husband know you’re here?” I tensed up, became defensive, and didn’t look at his face; I only answered shortly: “Yes, he knows I’m here.” He asked me questions as if they had caught us at a party, like: “Were you there together?” I just said: “Yes.”
- During one of the interrogations, Mahmoudi said that he also watched Mohabat TV. He had information about Christianity and theology. He said that two days before arresting me, they had arrested someone who was active in Erfan-e Halgheh [a mystical religion] and that that person had also said nice things about their religion. Then Mahmoudi said: “We must learn from all that is good, and discard all that is contrary to our religion. Because Islam is the most perfect.”
- He said that he had read an Italian Christian book, “Experience Paradise on Earth”, which had also been published in Persian. I asked if he could give it to me to read. I had always loved reading. I also always searched for Christian content online and copied it for house-church members. He asked what I thought they did with the books they confiscated from people, and said that they studied them themselves. He said: “Does not the Word say to respect the government and obey the laws? Why don’t you Christians respect the government and stop meeting together in these churches?” He wanted to convince me by using the Bible.
- He gave me a nearly 40-page book, “Why I am not a Christian”, written by an Islamic scholar in Qom [a very religious city] and said that I shouldn’t read it to criticise it. I said that I didn’t need to read it, but he said it was compulsory.
- The silence in the solitary cell was very hard. I was used to writing. I asked Mahmoudi to give me some paper and a pen. He said that it was forbidden to provide paper, so I said that I would then have to scratch words onto the wall of the cell with my ring. Then he kindly gave me paper and a pen, but said he was giving them to me only on the condition I gave them back to him later.
- I read some pages of the book Mahmoudi had given me, and seeing some verses of the Bible in that book delighted my heart. Verses that the author had used to criticise, with his human knowledge, became a blessing for me, as I eagerly began reading the Bible verses in that book. And, of course, I wrote my critiques of the author’s critique with God’s guidance, and handed them over to the interrogator. On some of those sheets Mahmoudi gave me, I wrote criticism about the first 15 pages of “Why I am not a Christian”, and on the other sheets I wrote worship songs, prayers, and so on. When I handed over the book and the sheets in the next interrogation, he said that he had told me not to read it with a critical mind. I answered that the author had written that book with a limited perspective, and that in the book it said that Jesus Christ had not been crucified but the Quran had said about Jesus Christ that he would die and live again. Mahmoudi was shocked. Before my arrest I had discussed with my mother a lot about Islam, and my knowledge of Islam had grown.
- The way he interrogated me was as if he was conducting a research project – and in fact he was. He explained that he was an “expert”, and that it was his job to work on such cases. Mahmoudi asked: “Why are you promoting Christianity?” I replied: “We Christians do not promote Christianity; we proclaim ‘Good News’. It is youwho are promoting Christianity by arresting us and cracking down on our activities.” I added that some believers hide their faith from their families and that, when they are arrested, friends and relatives find out about their faith and are curious to hear about Christianity. He told me that he had said this many times to his colleagues, but that they had refused to accept it. He wanted to prove that he was right, so he asked me to write down my point of view on a sheet of paper.
- I also wrote how the Iranian people love God, and some things about the Islamic Republic and Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei – that they came in the name of God and the people believed them, but that after a while the executions started. I explained in detail that theirs wasn’t the religion that the people were looking for. In the end, I wrote that whether or not they arrest Christians, the truth, and God’s will, will grow and spread. Mahmoudi took his time reading my writings. But when he saw that I had written about Khamenei, he warned me that my writing had become political and that my case would now become more complicated. He told me not to write things that could be used against me.
- During one of the interrogations I was blindfolded because one of his superiors was supposed to come and see how he was doing. During that interrogation, my chair was turned around, so that the table was behind me and not in front of me anymore. His superior read my answer to a previous question: “God speaks to our hearts; He is eager to communicate with us.” And in a shrill, loud voice – it seemed like he wanted to beat me up! – he said: “What have you written! God wants to speak to us?” I was startled and responded defensively, and with a loud voice myself: “God loves us so much that He is eager to speak and guide and save us, and that is why He sent Jesus Christ!” Before my conversion I had read books, including the Bible, that spoke about having conversations with God. Then Mahmoudi and his superior whispered together. When Mahmoudi explained to his superior that he had asked me a question about promoting Christianity, he began to read my written answer, and said: “Write your answer completely. I guarantee you no problems; I guarantee your security. This sheet of paper will not leave this place.” Before, Mahmoudi’s voice had been calm and had not been sharp. But it was clear that his superior’s voice had also affected him, because after that he had a stricter tone and wasn’t the same as before. However, he was upset with how his superior had behaved and had seemed to blame him for not getting the results they had wanted.
- He talked about the security of the country; that if they didn’t stop the Christians, and the Church, the security of the country would be in danger. He spoke about a church in Bandar Abbas, which he said was against the government, and said I should be glad I wasn’t part of thatchurch. He also said: “If the news [about this church attacking the government] reaches the local imam who conducts the Friday prayers, and he issues a religious edict, no-one would be able to stop the people from rising up, and your [Christians’] security would be jeopardised!”
- On my last night in jail, I asked Mahmoudi if he had written the questions for the man who came to check on my medical issues. He asked: “How come? Did something go wrong?” He was curious to know more. I answered: “No, he just looked at me badly.” I wanted to report it, because he had come to my cell again. Mr Mahmoudi paused for a moment, and then said: “No, there is no need for you to answer any questions unrelated to health or medical conditions.” But asking that question made him aware of my weakness and fear.
- I was given a letter of commitment not to meet with other Christians, talk about Christianity with others, or leave the town or country without permission, which he had written himself, and I had to sign it. When he saw that I wasn’t signing it, he said with a grin: “It seems as if you like it here and would like to stay longer?” He had found my weakness, by knowing the issue with the health officer, so he started to speak suggestively. Before that he had respected me.
- I bowed my head and said that I wouldn’t sign what he had written; that it would be like still being in prison and would take away my basic rights. How could I not connect with anyone? He took another sheet of paper, and changed some words and said: “You don’t have the right to evangelise; you don’t have the right to congregate with church members; you can’t travel from Iran to Armenia and Turkey; you must obtain written permission to leave the city to travel to other cities within Iran, until the judge issues a verdict.” He told me that I should thank God that I hadn’t been detained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, because their methods were much worse.
- On the third day of my detention, Mahmoudi told me that he would bring an Islamic scholar to talk with me. He said: “If you can convince him, we will all become Christians! And if he persuadesyou, youhave to become a Muslim.” I replied very seriously that I had reached a level of faith, certainty and truth that didn’t need to be discussed or compared.
- The interrogations were sometimes short and sometimes long, but because there was no clock in the room, I don’t know exactly how long they lasted. As the Islamic prayer times were irregular, I was confused about the time. Sometimes I got different meals at unexpected times, and in the wrong order. The interrogation questions were mostly repeated. During my detention, I prayed for Mahmoudi to become a Christian.
- Shabnam had two interrogators, Mr Mahmoudi and Mr Tehrani. She was interrogated more often than I was. The interrogators for all three of us – Shabnam, Aram and me – every half an hour compared all we had written during the interrogations.
- Because of some problems we were having with our marriage, Shabnam had asked me at the Christmas celebration if I wanted to fast with her for 40 days, and I accepted. I fasted on Saturday, but on Sunday, when the agents arrested me, I forgot to continue fasting. Shabnam continued, so she didn’t eat even when the officers brought her food. But then the interrogator threatened her; he thought that she was going on hunger strike, but she cried and said that she was fasting for her friend. However, the interrogator didn’t allow her to fast.
- They told me, by way of a reproach, that they had not taken me to a public court in order to protect my reputation, but instead had brought a judge [or prosecutor], to the place we were being held. I had to sign another “commitment” before they took me to the judge. Then I was told to wait. I heard Shabnam crying, and I think Tehrani gave her some tissues. My mind was wondering what had happened to Shabnam to make her cry. Shabnam and I went to court separately.
- The room where the judge was sitting was very clean, and separated from the others. It felt very odd to see such a clean room in that place. The smell of coffee also filled the room, and everyone was drinking coffee. I was sitting in front of the judge’s desk, but at a bit of a distance. Next to me was a man I had never met, and on my other side sat Tehrani, who appeared to have helped Shabnam a lot, and had told her to leave Iran as soon as possible because a case was being made against her. Mahmoudi was also there, and two others, wearing suits, who I couldn’t see clearly. In all, there were six others, as well as the judge, in the room with me. I was looking directly at the judge, and prayed in my heart for God to guide me so that I would say what was true and wise. He was a young and a strongly built judge, and spoke with pride and confidence.
- “Why did you become a Christian?” he asked, condescendingly and insultingly. “What you said about God speaking to us is blasphemy! Does God speak to us?” He was looking for a crime to charge me with. I asked if the judge knew who he sounded like. He shook his head and asked me to explain. I said: “Like the people of Israel: when Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the tablets, the people were afraid when they heard the voice of God, and said that Moses should speak to God directly, and then tell them. Humans do not want to be in direct contact with God out of fear, but God is eager for this relationship.” Everyone else in the room lowered their heads, and it was clear that the man next to me was smiling, while everyone else tried to busy themselves with other things.
- The judge asked if I knew already that my verdict was going to be the death sentence. I said that if the God that I love issued my death sentence then I would be ready to die. The judge became angry and said I was naive, looking for trouble, and that I had been tricked. The questions he asked were mostly the same as in my interrogations, but not as many. The court session lasted almost an hour. The judge wrote something and then said that I could be temporarily released if I had a guarantor, but that the case would remain open until the final verdict.
- I don’t remember if it was before or after the trial when they took Shabnam and me downstairs to take our mugshots. They took photos of one side of our face, and also from the front. When she was in another room, I could hear Shabnam telling a middle-aged man that he was the same age as her father, and he replied that he would cut off her head right away if he were her father. When we saw each other again, we took each other’s hands and laughed together quietly – both out of relief and also at wondering how we would look in our photos, having not showered for a few days! The man who had insulted Shabnam then separated us from each other.
- I didn’t have a lawyer or legal adviser during the whole process. I was released on the Tuesday afternoon, after two and a half days’ detention. After my release I couldn’t speak to Aram but sometimes I met Shabnam on the roof of her house.
- Between two weeks and a month after my release, the Ministry of Information called me and told me my confiscated belongings were to be returned. I was told: “Ms Safaei, I thought you were a true Muslim! I didn’t expect you not to wear hijab in a mixed group of men and women! This is contrary to Islam!” I replied that we Christians know that we are in the presence of God, and that out of fear and respect we wouldn’t allow ourselves to look at each other in a sinful way. I was told I had acted like a Christian, and that the crime of apostasy was being considered for me, but that it was also clear I had become confused in my beliefs.
- The officers showed me the list of things they had confiscated, and then told me to sign it. They returned our family photos, passports, mobile phones, keyboard, and computers. But they didn’t return the video about heaven and hell, the other films and children’s cartoons, Bibles, children’s Bible, other books, paintings and statues of Christ, and everything else related to Christianity. During one of the interrogations, I had asked what they did with the Bibles and the Gospels they confiscated, and they said they burned them. I asked if they would give me back the Bible with the bold text that I had just bought for my mother, but they didn’t agree.
- Before I was arrested, I took my SIM card out of my modern Nokia phone and put it in an old phone, so they couldn’t access the resources inside my phone, though they might have found the numbers saved there.
- Peyman and I decided to stay in Iran because of my pregnancy, but we changed cities and had trouble regarding our daughter’s education. The Ministry of Education said they would only hand over her education records if we promised she would be free to choose her own religion, but also that she wouldn’t be a Christian! In the new town, which was close to my father’s family, a few months later the Ministry of Intelligence called Peyman and summoned him. They asked if he knew why he had been summoned. Peyman stood firm and said he knew it was because he was a Christian. They interrogated Peyman every morning for a week, and released him at night. They even tried to tempt him through their wives to achieve their goals and gather evidence against us. In addition, they made an appointment for my husband to meet with the Friday prayer leader of Mashhad, and, at the same time, someone was monitoring our front door from morning to evening. We decided to move to Kerman [southeastern Iran] at night. Again, it was difficult to get my daughter’s school file from the school officials. We stayed there for three months, but we were under surveillance. Then we moved to Sirjan [southwest of Kerman]. We wanted to know what God’s will was.
- They found us easily as soon as I registered my children at school. They put a lot of pressure on my daughter and were focused on her. Even though she was going to a private school, she was forced to wear a chador [full Islamic covering] and to attend Islamic prayer services.
- We were invited to a seminar in Turkey and, when we went, we found out that no exit ban had been imposed on me, even though during the interrogation Mahmoudi had told me that I wasn’t allowed to leave the country.
- After returning from Turkey, we assessed the situation and realised that we could no longer serve as Christians in Iran. We lived in Sirjan for three months, then left Iran. I am still in touch with Shabnam. She and her family were threatened with death after she was released from prison.
According to Article 18, Emma’s interrogator said her arrest was part of a major national operation, in which Christians in as many as 23 other Iranian provinces had been detained.
It was the day after Christmas in 2010, just two months since the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had warned in an infamous speech in Qom that the spread of house-churches were among the “critical threats” facing the Islamic Republic – by “deceiving young Muslims”.
It was a speech that made headlines around the world, and it seems as though Emma’s interrogator was one of those listening.
Ali Khamenei said that if they don’t stop Christians, and the Church, the security of the country would be at risk.
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