WASHINGTON (BP)–Apostasy charges have been dropped against two Iranian converts to Christianity who spent more than 250 days in jail for their faith. The two women were permitted to leave Iran on Saturday, May 22, according to Elam Ministries, a U.K.-based organization working to strengthen the Iranian church.
“We have seen the Lord do miracles over and over again,” Marzieh Amirizadeh, 31, said, according to an Elam Ministries news release. “He kept us and gave us favour in prison, and sustained us during a very difficult period of waiting for our final trial” after a 14-month ordeal.
“We are most grateful to everyone who prayed for us,” Amirizadeh said. “I have no doubt that God heard the prayers of His people.”
“I believe our arrest, imprisonment and subsequent release were in the timing and plan of God,” said Maryam Rostampour, 28, according to the news release, “and it was all for His glory. But the prayers of people encouraged and sustained us throughout this ordeal.”
Amirizadeh and Rostampour, who faced apostasy charges and possible death sentences for converting to Christianity and for reportedly engaging in evangelistic activities and Bible distribution, were arrested in March 2009 and held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison until Nov. 18 when they were given a conditional release.
The apostasy charges, however, were not dismissed. The Elam Ministries news release noted that the women “have had a very trying six months waiting for their case to be heard in an Islamic court where they could have been sentenced to prison again.”
The women, prior to their May 22 departure from Iran, were “warned that any future Christian activity in Iran will be seriously dealt with,” the news release stated.
Elam Ministries did not specify to which country Amirizadeh and Rostampour traveled.
The news release recapped the Iranian duo’s ordeal: “Both young women have shown exceptional courage, daring to tell an Islamic judge that they would never deny their faith in Christ…. Maryam and Marzieh were arrested in March because of their Christian faith and were repeatedly placed under great pressure to recant and deny Jesus Christ. They faced repeated interrogations, weeks in solitary confinement, and unhealthy prison conditions. Both became seriously sick during their imprisonment and did not receive the treatment they needed which greatly increased their suffering. Senior judges and officials also intimidated them.”
Amirizadeh and Rostampour, though facing an uncertain future, are “determined to serve the Lord and the Iranian church,” according to the Elam Ministries news release.
Rostampour was quoted as saying, “We hope to eventually share some of what the Lord allowed us to go through to highlight the need and the opportunity for the church in Iran, but right now we will take time to pray and seek the Lord for His will.”
International Christian Concern, a human rights organization that had helped publicize the women’s plight, listed three prayer requests after their release:
— “For Maryam and Marzieh’s recovery, as months of abuse and mistreatment by Iranian security forces have undoubtedly taken a toll on their health.
— “For Maryam and Marzieh’s adjustment into a new country and culture. That their witness and faith will continue to move countless more lives into repentance, and toward salvation and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
— “For the Iranian church, which continues to persevere and grow despite great torment and affliction committed against them by the Iranian government.”
“Their faith and endurance has been an encouragement to countless believers throughout the world,” said Aidan Clay, ICC’s Middle East regional manager.
The celebrated stance by Amirizadeh and Rostampour for their faith occurred during an Aug. 9 court hearing in Tehran last year.
The Farsi Christian News Network recounted that the women were questioned by a deputy prosecutor identified as “Mr. Haddad.”
According to FCNN:
“Mr. Haddad asked the two women if they were Christians. ‘We love Jesus,’ they replied. He repeated his question and they said, ‘Yes, we are Christians.’
“Mr. Haddad then said, ‘You were Muslims and now you have become Christians.’
“‘We were born in Muslim families, but we were not Muslims’ was their reply.
“Mr. Haddad’s questioning continued and he asked them if they regretted becoming Christians, to which they replied, ‘We have no regrets.’
“Then he stated emphatically, ‘You should renounce your faith verbally and in written form.’ They stood firm and replied, ‘We will not deny our faith.’
“During one tense moment in the questioning, Maryam and Marzieh made reference to their belief that God had convicted them through the Holy Spirit. Mr. Haddad told them, ‘It is impossible for God to speak with humans.’
“Marzieh asked him in return, ‘Are you questioning whether God is Almighty?’
“Mr. Haddad then replied, ‘You are not worthy for God to speak to you.’
“Marzieh said, ‘It is God, and not you, who determines if I am worthy.’
“Mr. Haddad told the women to return to prison and think about the options they were given and come back to him when they are ready [to comply]. Maryam and Marzieh said, ‘We have already done our thinking.'”
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.