Evin Prison: A Tool of Repression Against Iranian Christians
By Claire Evans
02/06/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – This month marks the 40-year anniversary of the founding of the modern Islamic Republic of Iran. Over the last four decades, the regime has cultivated an institutional tool of repression so dark that it has earned an international reputation as a type of “torture factory.” Officially, however, it is known as Evin Prison.
Prisoners incarcerated here live in dismal conditions. Wards are overcrowded and lack basic necessities. Inmates have reported over 71 types of torture in Evin Prison, according to a 2016 report published by the United Kingdom. For those whose health deteriorates, medical abuse runs rampant.
Evin Prison is largely influenced by the Intelligence Ministry, which views Christians as a threat to national security. For this reason, many Christians experience incarceration inside Evin Prison.
According to research compiled by International Christian Concern (ICC), in cases where the prison is known, Iran sends 60% of arrested Christians to Evin Prison. There, the authorities do everything in their power to dismantle the Church and intimidate Christians into renouncing their faith.
“Usually, the first month or two, there is torture to get all the information they can from the prisoner. If the prisoner dies under torture, they claim that he committed suicide,” explained Dr. Hormoz Shariat, president and founder of Iran Alive Ministries to ICC.
The pressure is not just physical, but psychological as well. He continued, “When one is arrested, other brothers and sisters [may] cut relationship from him and his family because of the security risks. So the person and his family feels abandoned and lonely.”
The authorities’ treatment of Christian prisoners can make survival nearly impossible. Amin Naderi, a Christian convert, knows this firsthand. He was sent to Evin Prison in 2016, where the authorities hoped to make an example out of him. Naderi was brutally interrogated, and his health suffered. He requested medical treatment, but the authorities refused.
Frustration mounted. He was kept in a ward run by the Intelligence Ministry, the conditions of which are sometimes likened to that of a living coffin. After a year of suffering, Naderi penned an open letter. He asked his interrogators, “What have I done against you and our country that made you hate me this much?”
“Usually, the first month or two, there is torture to get all the information they can from the prisoner. If the prisoner dies under torture, they claim that he committed suicide.”
He continued, “You were using rude language during the interrogation, you made fun of my beliefs and attacked my monotheistic religion…You have written a report filled with lies, stating that I have insulted your religious beliefs! You even forced my prison inmates to accept and sign the confession!”
He always prayed for his interrogators, for their health and that they may be fair and just. Yet his harsh treatment continued. “I have no words… I surrender to your cruel decision and I have decided to terminate my life slowly, and that is why I am on a hunger strike.”
The authorities could not ignore an open letter. Naderi gained a temporary release on bail from prison. He is currently appealing a 15-year prison sentence. If he loses the appeal, the authorities will return Naderi to face his fate in prison.
Sometimes, Iran uses Evin Prison as a tool to intimidate entire families. “The Iranian government definitely detains and raids the houses of individuals of those holding house church events. The authorities detain them and threaten their families. A lot of church leaders have no choice but to leave Iran for the sake of their family and loved ones,” Dr. Mike Ansari from Heart4Iran, an Iranian Christian partnership platform, shared with ICC.
He added, “Most of the arrested individuals are coerced to divulge information about their house-church activities and those of their friends, under threat of criminal prosecution or arrest of family members… Therefore, the case of every arrested Iranian believer is of utmost importance.”
Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz and his family know this all too well. Technically, Iran’s constitution protects the rights of Assyrian Christians. Pastor Victor pastored the Pentecostal Assyrian Church in Tehran, which was temporarily closed by the government in 2009. The authorities wanted Pastor Victor to stop using Farsi, Iran’s official language, in classes hosted at the church. Pastor Victor refused. Since then, the authorities have heavily targeted him and his family.
He, his wife, and his son have all experienced incarceration in Evin Prison. They were initially arrested in 2014, and Pastor Victor’s health declined. During this time, the authorities used a number of psychological tactics to place even more stress on Pastor Victor.
His son, Ramiel, was intensely interrogated about his father’s Christian faith. The authorities charged him with “acting against national security.” The pastor’s wife, Sahmariam, faced a similar experience. Multiple charges were levied against her, including “training pastors to act as spies.” Collectively, all three could potentially serve 15 years in jail. Appeals are ongoing.
Unfortunately, the stories of Naderi, Pastor Victor, Ramiel, and Sahmariam are replicated over and over again by the authorities. The government uses the entirety of their security apparatus to intimidate the Church into silence. As Naderi asked in his open letter: “There is one question in my mind, if we (Christians) are actually what you say we are and we have insulted your religious beliefs and if your judicial process from the time of arrest to interrogation and court sessions were all lawful, then why are you hiding us from people?”
Iran intends Evin Prison to be that living coffin for Christians. But their testimony transcends this living grave, instead breathing new life into the Church. Each of these four individuals have stood firm in their faith, refusing to end their sufferings by recanting their faith. We must keep them, and all other Christians incarcerated in Evin Prison, in our prayers.
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