IRAN: Mehdi Akbari writes of grief after son’s death

Mehdi AkbariChristian convert Mehdi Akbari, also known as Yasser, has written about his grief at the loss of his only child Amir-Ali in 2021, in a letter smuggled out of Evin prison.

In the letter, first reported on by the Mirror newspaper on 7 July and now seen by Article 18, Mehdi says he carries the grief within him “like a suppressed cry and an unexpressed sorrow”.

Amir-Ali, who had cerebral palsy, died at the age of 18 in a care facility where he had been living since his father’s imprisonment in June 2020. Mehdi was a single parent to his son, whose death was reportedly due to complications after surgery.

Mehdi was informed on 28 December 2021 that Amir-Ali had died, but the prison authorities did not let him attend the burial. He was given five days’ leave from 1 January 2022 (later extended to ten days) but by that time the funeral had already taken place.

In his letter, Mehdi writes about his final moments with his son, whom he was eventually allowed to visit two months before he died “after writing dozens of letters”.

Amir-Ali AkbariWhen Amir-Ali saw me in handcuffs and prison clothes, he was reassured that I had not abandoned him, even in such conditions,” he writes. “It was as though my son had endured his painful illness for just a little longer so we might have one final chance to meet, albeit in prison clothes and in the presence of officers. 

Due to the court order, I had to go back to my cell, but I consider the best moment of my life to be the last time I hugged my Amir-Ali.

Two months later, Amir-Ali passed away. I mourned his loss in prison, and bemoaned my sense of remorse for not being by his bedside in his last moments. The prison authorities did not agree to a short leave from prison for me to attend Amir-Ali’s burial. Only a few days afterwards was I sent on leave for ten days.

“Is worshipping God a crime?”

In Mehdi’s letter he also describes the difficulties he has faced since his arrest in 2019, including a month in solitary confinement, denial of access to a lawyer and being convicted in a five-minute sham trial. He writes that even after three years in Tehran’s Evin Prison he is still unable to understand how membership of a house church could be viewed as an “action against national security”, the charge under which he was sentenced in 2020 to ten years’ imprisonment.

Is worshipping God a crime?” he asks. “When I was accused of ‘action against the country’s security’, I did not have a lawyer to ask him about the meaning of this accusation and what crimes are included in the definition.”

Mehdi writes that before he was taken to the Revolutionary Court he had thought “a fair judge, well aware of what constitutes a crime, especially the serious crime I was accused of, would examine the evidence presented before him and realise I have only worshipped God according to my Christian faith, permissible under Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution, and therefore acquit me of any crime and save me from prison. But what an illusion that was!

Mehdi describes his court hearing as “hundreds of times worse than the interrogations”, explaining: “If the interrogators tried to impose one crime on me, in this court the judge attributed many more crimes to me that beforehand I could never have imagined. He labelled Christianity a ‘false sect’, of which he said I was a follower. He expanded the boundaries of criminalisation against me so ignorantly that he even mistakenly seemed to consider Jews and Christians as followers of the same religion. He declared me a follower of ‘the deviant religion of Christianity’, and also ‘a Jewish person affiliated to Israel’.”

He continues, “Now that I have spent three years in prison, I still do not know how I was able to act against Iran’s national security by being a follower of Christ. Having no lawyer, I still don’t know how to defend myself within the framework of the law, considering what they did to me. I don’t know what to say if someone asked me how I acted against national security. I only know that I am, and will remain, a Christian, and that I will preach about the light of God and kingdom of heaven to everyone.

Mehdi says his experiences have tormented his soul as well as his body, and writes: “If a prisoner loses his faith, he will surely be crushed. When the night drags its black mantle over the prison, and the sadness sinks in with the sunset, the beats of the seconds of the clock hit like a whip in my mind, and I begin to wonder: I wonder if this faith of mine is worth enduring such pressures. Time and time again, I have found myself surrounded with these thoughts, and each time I have answered firmly: ‘Yes, of course it is worth it.’

Mehdi writes that he was shocked when the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court both confirmed the verdict against him, and says he hopes his imprisonment may at least make a difference to others. He concludes:

If my presence within these prison walls means that I would be the last prisoner of conscience, and causes other religious minorities of my country to be able to freely worship God according to their own faiths, as stipulated in Article 13 of the Constitution, then not only do I have no complaints but I accept it with love.

Perhaps it is necessary for everyone to be made aware that, in my country, despite the laws and Constitution, they consider Christianity a ‘deviant faith’, and with no reason they consider worshipping God in this way to be a collusion with foreign governments, punishable by a judicial ruling. Yes, it may be necessary, but what else should I do from behind these walls? I do not know. Perhaps the truth should be told without exaggeration, so that everyone hears.”

Read Mehdi Akbari’s Prisoner Profile.

(Article 18, Mirror)

Photos: Article 18