ANKARA, Turkey Days after his release from a month of interrogations and torture under secret police custody, Iranian Christian Mohsen Namvar has fled across the border into Turkey with his family.
Traveling by train, the badly beaten Christian arrived July 2 in eastern Turkey with his wife and son.
Namvar, 44, had been held incommunicado by a branch of Sepah (the Iranian Revolutionary Guards) from May 31 until June 26, when authorities told his family they were releasing him "temporarily."
Although the secret police demanded $43,000 in bail, officers refused to issue a court receipt for the family's cash payment.
At the time of his release, Namvar was experiencing fever, severe back pain, extremely high blood pressure, uncontrollable shaking of his limbs and recurring short-term memory loss.
"I have no doubt they wanted to kill me," Namvar told Compass Direct News.
Namvar, who converted from Islam to Christianity as a teenager, attributed his severe physical mistreatment to his refusal to give the police any names or information about other converts and house church groups in Iran.
In the spring of 2007, Namvar had been arrested and severely tortured with electrical shocks allegedly for baptizing Muslims who had become Christians. Three months after back surgery for those injuries, he regained the ability to walk but still suffered pain and discomfort.
In Ankara, Namvar presented himself to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to apply for status as an asylum-seeker.
The UNHCR assigned Namvar and his family to relocate in one of 30 designated satellite cities in Turkey, where he is required to sign in daily at the local police station. They must wait 11 months, until June 8, 2009, for a UNHCR interview in which they will detail their reasons for requesting asylum.
"We are tired in our minds and very sad," Namvar's wife, Fereshteh, said after learning they must wait nearly a year in Turkey before even presenting her husband's case. "We were under so much pressure in Iran, and again we are facing it here."
While her husband was under arrest, she told of being subjected to a second police ransacking of their home, repeated telephone calls filled with slander and death threats and one attempt to kidnap their son from his school.
Namvar said he was surprised that the interviewing officer at the UNHCR spent only six minutes registering information from their passports. Following standard UNHCR protocol, the official did not ask why they had fled from their country, nor did he collect copies of documents they had brought concerning his case.
Nearly 15,000 applications for refugee or asylum status are now in process at the Ankara office, which is the largest UNHCR center in Europe apart from the Geneva headquarters.
UNHCR external affairs officer Metin Corabatir told Compass, "... even if they have strong evidence for their case, at best it takes three to four years for someone to be resettled through our office."
Although he earned his living as a miner, Namvar had been active in preaching and teaching the message of Christ across northern Iran since the early 1990s.
His first brush with the authorities came when he was caught in 2001 giving out Christian literature at a gas station. "I spent three days in jail," he recalled.
After that, local police demanded that he obtain permission each time he wanted to enter the city near his home, in effect banning him from the region.
"The police created a very bad atmosphere there against us," Namvar said, "so no one would even respond to our greetings on the street."
Because of this, Namvar moved his family to Tehran. But he was unable to find work due to his police record and the requirement on all job applications to state his religion.
For the past seven years, he has supported himself by translating books from English into Farsi, while continuing to visit and minister among various house church groups.
"I never knew God until Jesus showed Himself to me in a dream," Namvar said of his conversion to Christianity 29 years ago. "But ever since then, I have followed Jesus and told others about Him."
Under Iran's hard-line Shiite government, a Muslim who converts to Christianity has committed apostasy, which is punishable by death.
Iranian Christians Mahmood Matin and Arash Bandari have been jailed since May 15 in Shiraz, where they were arrested on "suspicion" of apostasy.
Under a draft law under discussion in the Iranian parliament, the "optional" death penalty now in force for apostasy would become obligatory.
Compass Direct News.
The case of Mohsen Namvar also has been cited in other media, including an Amnesty International report that he was arrested May 31 "at his home in Tehran by eight police officers who refused to tell him why he was being arrested. They took his computer, printer, CDs, books and money. … Mohsen Namvar had been arrested in 2007 for baptising [a] Muslim converting to Christianity. He was tortured with electric shocks to his back which left him unable to walk. After his release, he had surgery to his back. Although he is now able to walk, prolonged sitting or standing causes him pain."