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“When my family found I was a Christian, they threatened to kill me”

An Iranian Christian who fled his country continued to receive threats from his countrymen in Spain, where the authorities have not granted him asylum after 16 years. “I have confidence in God”, he says.

FUENTES Protestante Digital AUTOR 45/Jonatan_Soriano,5/Evangelical_Focus BARCELONA 05 DE NOVIEMBRE DE 2020 17:00 h
Joseph had to flee Iran sixteen years ago after converting to Christianity and being threatened with death by his family. / Jonatán Soriano

It is a sunny morning, one of those days when you feel like sitting on a bench in a park. But he can't help glancing at anyone who passes by or who, when walking, comes a little closer than they should.

This caution has become an immanent attitude for Joseph (false name for security reasons) after 16 years suffering threats and hostilities due to his religious identity. First in Iran, his home country, and then in Spain, when he arrived in Barcelona.

The new life of Joseph, a 50-year-old Iranian, began in 2004, when he left Islam to convert to Christianity. "When my family found out I was a Christian, they told me that if I didn't return to Islam, they would kill me".

From then on, Joseph began a long journey that led him to flee Iran clandestinely and eventually took him to Barcelona, where he spent the first months living on the streets until he came into contact with an evangelical church that helped him.

After three rejected applications for political asylum, Joseph finds himself in an unregulated situation since 2018, although he has never received any threat of deportation. He now works with a local church, although he has no hope of being able to process his papers with the Iranian embassy in Spain.

Iran ranks ninth on the Open Doors World Watch List. According to data recently published by a secular organisation which monitors the social, political and religious situation of the country, Christianity would have grown to reach 1.5% of the population, that is, more than a million people.

Joseph told his story to Spanish news website Protestante Digital.


Question. How was your flight from Iran?

Answer. The trip was very expensive. I had a friend who talked to some people, arranged the details and paid for everything. I started the trip in a truck a week later. After three days of waiting, I boarded a speedboat to Dubai. It was dangerous, I traveled just holding on to a rope.

During part of the journey we were chased by a government boat and they even shot at us. Many people have died on this journey. I stayed in a house in Dubai for a week and then I took a plane to Malaysia, from where I was finally able to get to Barcelona.

When I traveled from Bandar Abbas to Dubai, all the documentation I was carrying was false. In Iran, when a Muslim converts to another religion he has no right to anything so I did not have a passport, and I do not have it here either. It seems that I am fighting for my case against two governments, Iran and Spain.


Q. You had an urge to leave your country.

A. When I converted to Christ I shared it with my parents and the rest of my family. My cousins worked in a moral and religious security corps. When they found out that I was a Christian, they told me that if I didn't return to Islam they would kill me. In order to save my life and my faith I had to leave the country. Now they don't know where I am.

Since I left Iran, more than sixteen years ago, I have had no contact with any family members. I am alone, but here I have found a new family in the church. I am always with them, and I have confidence in God.

[photo_footer] Joseph has also received threats from other Iranians in Barcelona.  / J. Soriano [/photo_footer] 


Q. Can your family have any idea where you are or if you are still alive?

A. I don't think so. I have heard stories from other Iranian Christians in Europe, like a boy who was killed in a refugee camp in the Netherlands when he was going to church.

When I arrived here, I found a job in an Iranian shop that sold Persian carpets. The owner had been Iran's ambassador to Italy. When he found out that I had converted to Christianity he threatened to kill me.

In 2011, I started working in an Iranian restaurant, but they did not accept me because they knew I was a Christian. They constantly bullied me, and in the end I was fired.

Furthermore, when an Iranian has ever come to church, I have avoided revealing my identity and my origin, because I do not know them and I have to be careful.


Q. Have you received any other threats here in Barcelona?

A. When I had my first interview with the Spanish government in 2005, they assigned me an interpreter who told other Iranians that I had converted to Christianity. I don't know why he did that. He also threatened to report me to the embassy. They told me to report it to the police, but I did not do anything because I did not know the laws here.


Q. Did you go to the embassy?

A. All embassies have the authority of their countries. If I enter the Iranian embassy in Spain, no one can assure me what they are going to do with me. They can kill me inside the facilities, as it happened with Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey.

I know another Iranian Christian refugee here who has called and written to the embassy, and they have told him that since he illegally left Iran without documentation, they will not process his passport or any document. Governments are violent, they discriminate and manipulate, politics is very dirty.


Q. What has been the response of the Spanish Administration to your situation?

A. The lawyer I had in 2010 even told me to marry someone from here to get the papers, but I refused. For several years I have helped other refugees with computer or English classes. I have also counseled other asylum seekers, but the government has not solved my situation.

In ten years I have changed lawyers more than eight times to try to solve my case, but when my application for the Red Card (for political asylum) was canceled in 2018, they told me that I could not do anything, that I was out of the system.

After trying three times, they have not allowed me to re-apply. The government told me that I was not the first person in this situation. It is a difficult, I cannot go back to Iran, I can stay here, but without moving and without papers.

I am happy to live here, because I have the freedom to carry the Bible under my arm, go to church and share my faith with other people and help them. I am always thinking about ways to help people I meet on the street, but without papers it is difficult to volunteer.

Here I am free to have a normal life, if the government lets me. With Jesus I can live, until now I am living. I have found many people here who have helped me, but not my countrymen, because many, even here, do not accept that I converted to Christ.

[photo_footer] Joseph found help in an evangelical church, which is his family now. / J. Soriano  [/photo_footer] 


Q. How was your conversion to Christianity?

A. In my country I mainly worked as a salesman of clothes for children and adults. I also studied economics and, in my spare time, computer science from home. I had a friend who had converted to Christianity and one day he explained me who Jesus was using the words of the Bible.

I then accepted Christ and after many months I was secretly baptized in a house at midnight.

Before all this happened, I had been very sick and had not received a concrete diagnosis. I lost a lot of weight and was in a very fragile state.

During my illness, I had a dream where I think I saw Jesus calling me. I remember that everything was white and it seemed as if He was waiting for me. A week later, in the same dream, I heard Him telling me that it was not yet my time. I met my friend right after that, in February 2004.


Q. The situation of Christians in Iran is really difficult.

A. Ayatollah Khamenei has said that they are not willing to let Christianity grow in Iran and that they are going to pull out all its roots in the country. It is a horrible situation, but many Iranians want to convert to Christ. In my country, if I walk down the street with a Bible in my hand, the police will surely arrest me. In prison, they will ask me why I converted to Christianity and probably, after a long time, they will kill me. People still convert to Christianity, but in secret.


Q. How is the conversion of a Christian in Iran?

A. Christians secretly approach other people to share the message of the gospel, which says that if you do not believe in the Son you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. In Iran the Word of God is shared, but in secret.

That is why there are so many Iranians who convert to Jesus. There will be more and more Christians in Iran, because many people will understand that only Jesus can save.


Q. How are the churches organised?

A. Churches that are open have to provide all information about their members and their activities to the government. They cannot share the gospel message outside their premises. Almost all officially registered churches are very controlled.

That is why many people meet in homes. There are many undergound churches, which do many activities, like studying the Bible together. The government pursues them closely, for example, infiltrating some people with cameras to record them. In many cases, they do not allow other services, such as burials.


Q. After all you have faced to follow Jesus, would you change the decision you made in 2004?

A. When I accepted Christ I knew I would pay the consequences. But when I compare them to what I could have kept, everything else comes to nothing. Jesus went to the cross and paid for everything with his blood. When Jesus returns we will have absolute freedom.





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