Iranian Christian Women Freed from Evin Prison
Coming on the heels of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (Nov. 8), Christian religious-freedom groups celebrated a victory yesterday in Iran. Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, and Maryam Rustampoor, 27—two Iranian converts to Christianity—were freed after being imprisoned for 259 days.
Authorities raided the women's apartment, which contained "Christian literature," on March 5. The women were charged with anti-state activity, spreading Christianity, and apostasy (deserting one's faith), and were placed in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
In Iran, apostasy alone is punishable by execution or life in prison. The country has been placed on several watch lists of places that repress religious freedom. Recently, Iran has come under fire for jailing believers following raids on churches and homes belonging to Christians.
While in custody, reports came that the two women endured "intense interrogations which have reportedly included sleep deprivation and other psychological pressure." In the past, Evin in particular has been accused of denying its inmates basic rights, and both women suffered from poor health that went untreated. Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari just released a memoir about her hellish eight-month stay in Evin following a routine visit in 2006 with her elderly mother.
Additionally, the women were heavily pressured to reclaim Islam. Back in August, a judge urged them to renounce Christianity. When Esmaeilabad and Rustampoor would not do so, they were sent back to jail "to think about it." According to BosNewsLife, at one point in the hearing, one of the women said God had spoken to them through the Holy Spirit:
After a deputy prosecutor reportedly told them, "It is impossible for God to speak with humans," Esmaeilabad apparently replied: "Are you questioning whether God is Almighty?"
The prosecution was heard telling her that she is "not worthy for God" but Esmaeilabad countered: "'It is God, and not you, who determines if I am worthy." After they were told by a court to return to prison and think about their options, the two women were heard saying: "We have already done our thinking. If we come out of prison we want to do so with honor."
On October 14, Her.meneutics noted the women were no longer facing the anti-state charge. As Washington TV reported, "This is good news that Iran has dropped the unfounded charge of carrying out activities against the state," said Release International chief Andy Dipper. "But what it indicates is how Iran confuses personal matters of faith with national security."
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