Iranian converts unwavering in faith, despite arrest
WASHINGTON (BP)--Two Iranian converts to Christianity are standing strong in their faith, according to a report from Iran by the Farsi Christian News Network.
The two converts, Marzieh Amirizadeh, 30, and Maryam Rustampoor, 27, were summoned to appear in what FCNN described as "the revolutionary court" in Tehran on Aug. 9. The women have been detained since their arrest on March 5 and have been held in Iran's notorious Evin prison since a March 18 court hearing.
The Farsi Christian News Network, describing the women's five-month ordeal, said they have "suffered greatly while in prison, suffering ill health, solitary confinement and interrogations for many hours while blindfolded."
FCNN, in its report on the Aug. 9 hearing, 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.'"
FCNN reported, "At the end of the session, Mr. Haddad told them that a judge will give them his verdict, though it is not clear who will be the judge in their case now. He also allowed Maryam and Marzieh to have a lawyer represent them in the case for the first time since their arrest."
The hearing, according to FCNN, "made it clear that in the eyes of the court Maryam and Marzieh's only crime is that they have converted to Christianity."
Concerning the women's health, FCNN noted that both have lost much weight and that Marzieh "is in pain due to an ongoing problem with her spine, as well as an infected tooth and intense headaches. She desperately needs medical attention. Two months ago the prison officials told her the prison had proper medical equipment and that they will attend to her, but so far no proper treatment has been given."
International Christian Concern, a Washington-based human rights organization for persecuted Christians, also carried a report on the hearing.
"We are amazed at how the Lord has been helping the two women stay strong in their faith," Jonathan Racho, manager for ICC's work in behalf of persecuted Christians in Africa and the Middle East, told Baptist Press.
"It shows the importance of prayer," Racho said. "We ask people to pray for the women that they will continue to be encouraged by the Lord."
Racho also urged Christians to contact government officials to call for pressure on Iran for the women's release.
FCNN noted: "Maryam and Marzieh's case is a clear and harsh violation of human rights and religious liberty by Iran's authorities. They deserve the support of all those who respect human rights and to be released without charges so they can pursue a life of freedom."
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.