By Mark Ellis
Fifteen tall, muscular men broke into her home in Esfahan the day after Christmas and began to ransack it. At first they were silent and refused to answer any questions, but then it became clear. They were looking for evidence she is a Christian.
She was still in bed at 7:30 a.m. when the men broke into the house. Apparently, a neighbor opened an exterior door to the complex. “I thought I was dreaming,” says Fatemeh Yar-Ahmadi, also known as Yassi, in an interview conducted with Mohabat News. She had been a Christian for eight years when she received the visit by the Intelligence Service. She had also been working with believers in other parts of Iran.
“Cut the phone lines. Spread through the house and start searching,” the men yelled.
“Who are you?” Yassi cried out. They did not reply. Her mother, who suffers from heart disease, sat in the next room. Startled and afraid, she began to cry.
“What do you want?” Yassi asked again. “Say something! My mom is scared!”
One of the older men, who appeared to be in charge, showed her a paper and said they were looking for Christians. “Who is a Christian here?” he asked harshly.
“Don’t do anything to my mom. I am a Christian,” she replied. Yassi turned to her mother and said, “Don’t worry, they are looking for me.” Her mother began to shake. One of the men filmed everything with a camcorder.
“Do you clearly confess that you are a Christian?” the man asked. “You can be killed for this.”
Yassi stared at the man for a moment without replying, then went to fetch a cup of cold water for her mother.
The men searched the house for an hour. They found a lease contract with Yassi’s name on it. It was for a house she rented in another neighborhood to be used as a house church and as a residence for some believers.
“How far have you gone into this?” the older man asked. “The lease paper for the house is under your name. Have you started a church? Didn’t you think about your poor mother?”
They told Yassi she was under arrest. As they left the house, Yassi said to the older man, “Can I take my Bible with me?”
He said yes. As soon as Yassi entered their vehicle, she began to read her Bible, to immerse her thoughts with God’s thoughts, to prepare her heart for what might lie ahead.
She was taken to the intelligence office at Dastgerd Prison. She stuck the small Bible in her pocket and surprisingly, they didn’t search her. She thought to herself if they found it she would tell them “you allowed me to have it yourselves.”
They blindfolded her and took her to a solitary cell. Once the blindfold was removed, she saw the inside of the sparse cell contained a carpet, an old blanket, some empty bottles, a pocket-sized Quran and a Turbah (a clay tablet Muslims use for their daily prayers).
After a brief time, she heard a man begging, “Don’t beat me! Don’t beat me!” Yassi’s heart began to race.
Blindfolded again, they took her into a room for interrogation. “They mostly asked me who did I know outside the country, who did I work with, why did I travel to a foreign country and where did I get the Bibles I had at home,” she recalled.
“It seemed they wanted to connect me and other Christian converts to Israel and England and prove that our activities were intended to disrupt national security and ultimately overthrow the Islamic regime of Iran,” she told Mohabat News.
Yassi’s first interrogation lasted 14 hours. “Hours passed. I was tired. The more I kept quiet the more they threatened and cursed me to the point where they eventually started to beat me. They also threatened to take my daughter away.”
She also discovered they had bugged her phone. “They knew every little detail about our house church, which had probably been obtained by monitoring our phone calls. They had also captured several photos of people coming to and leaving the house church,” she notes.
The court issued a temporary prison sentence for Yassi and she was transferred to another facility. Before the move, she hid her Bible under a blanket in the corner of the cell. “I was praying that someone would take that Bible and read it,” she says.
Conditions in prison were awful, with severe overcrowding. “There were 63 of us in one cell. The cell was 24 square meters with 27 beds in it. The rest were sleeping on the floor. I was occasionally taken for interrogation, each occasion lasting about 7 to 8 hours.”
After 37 days, Yassi was released on bail, pending her trial. The government continued to watch her closely and sometimes asked her to report to the Intelligence Office.
“The mental tortures continued even after I was released,” she says. “Since I didn’t know what awaited me in the trial and what kind of verdict I would receive, I decided to leave Iran. So I left my country in January 2013.”
“The regime fails to realize that its life span depends on God’s will and that oppressing people’s beliefs cannot strengthen the shaky pillars of the regime.”
Yassi remains resolute in her faith and the prospects for the church in Iran. “It is worth mentioning that despite all these persecutions, the Islamic regime of Iran knows that Christianity is increasingly spreading across the country and penetrating the hearts of many Iranians.”