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 ...1
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