After 105 days in confinement, Mehdi Forootan was released on April 9 from the notoriously harsh Evin prison in Iran.
Early on Sunday morning, the day after Christmas 2010, Forootan, 33, found himself in the back seat of an undercover police car after a police raid on his house. In an interrogation before a video camera, an officer demanded, “Do you know why you were arrested?” Turning the camera off after Forootan’s reply of “No,” the officer looked Forootan in the eyes saying, “I can beat you until blood is coming out of your mouth and every part of you. Tell me why we are taking you. “After refusing to return to Islam, Forootan was told, “We want to take you to a bad place.” Do you know anything about Evin?” Forootan’s heart sank at the mention of the ill-famed prison, the harshest in Iran.
For 38 days he was in solitary confinement in a cell two meters wide and three meters long. No bed, no chair, no table – only a thin blanket, a small toilet and a metal washing basin. A Quran and a Muslim prayer book lay on the windowsill. Interrogations occurred every few days. Who did he work for? Why did he visit Afghanistan, Turkey and Armenia? Was he a Christian? They accused him of being a spy, a mason and a friend of Israel. He was charged with threatening national security because of his evangelization activities and his work with a Christian ministry.
Solitary confinement took its toll. He longed to be with his family and his fiancée. “I would start praying,” he said, “and after some time I would be really sad. ‘God, please get me out of this situation, I want to speak to people.’” After three weeks of confinement, Forootan began writing statements about his life as a Christian leader in Iran, trying to guess what his interrogators suspected about him and his activities as a cell group leader. He made sure to cover the entire sheet of paper with writing or scribbles so that authorities could not alter or add to his statement. “I started to tell them how, when I was a teenager, I struggled with substance abuse and how when I was in university I found Jesus and He saved me, and I have been free ever since.” In this instance, the guard angrily turned off the camera and said, “I asked you to tell us about your crime, not evangelize us.”
In a period of extreme weariness from the interrogations, he remembered the biblical story of David where he acted crazy to get out of a precarious situation. In desperation, Forootan tried this ploy, not realizing the authorities would give him psychiatric medication. Though he tried to convince him that he was feeling better, they continued to force feed him the meds throughout the rest of his incarceration.
After 38 days of solitary confinement Forootan was placed in a cell with about 30 other inmates. They spoke together about the Bible and the Quran, bound together as friends by a common enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
April 9, 2011, after 105 days in prison, Mehdi Forootan was pushed out the door into freedom. He then called friends who took him home where he recuperated from the medication he had been given. He later escaped to Turkey and was joined by his fiancée where they soon were married. She has since gone on to Norway where she has been granted asylum and he hopes at some point to follow. For now, he says that he feels stateless.
Over a 2 month period, from December 2010 through January of this year, it is estimated that Iranian authorities arrested over 120 Christians. Most were released after a few days, but for Forootan and a few others, their confinement extended from days into months. Of those Christians arrested during that period, Forootan’s friend Farshid Fathi and one other are the only ones remaining in custody.
Father, how thankful we are that You have rescued Mehdi Forootan from prison. We ask You to reunite him with his wife in Norway that they might minister there together as your servants, just as he has been your faithful witness in Iran. And we pray for the nation of Iran, that You might soften the hearts of the leaders to turn to You and to restore justice in that land. We also join in prayer for the remaining Christians in prison, Father fill them with Your hope, Your comfort and Your peace at this time. Amen