By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Two young women who converted from Islam to Christianity may face execution or at least life imprisonment after an Iranian court officially charged them with "apostasy" and "propagation of the Christian faith", trial observers and Iranian Christians confirmed Thursday, October 8.
Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, and Maryam Rustampoor, 27, were detained in March for practicing Christianity after authorities raided and confiscated materials from their home.
Authorities reportedly also accused them of "engaging in anti-government activities" but that charge was dropped during the unexpected hearing at the Revolutionary Court on Wednesday, October 7, Christians said.
Both women have refused to renounce their faith in Christ and return to Islam, despite reported pressure from authorities in this strictly Islamic nation.
The two young women are to appear in front of a regular court, trial observers said. The United States has criticized their detention. Iranian Christians have expressed concerns about the health of the women, who have been held in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.
On October 4, Maryam Rustampoor suffered severe food poisoning, but was given medical attention only after much insistence, Christians said.
"Maryam and Marzieh have now been in prison in Tehran because of their faith for over six months and their health is deteriorating," explained 'Pray for Iran', an Internet initiative of Iranian churches, which has closely followed the case.
"Both women are suffering from sore thoughts, irregular painful stomach aches and often intense head aches. Both have lost much weight during their ordeal, because of their sickness and lack of nutrition," Pray for Iran added.
"Marzieh's tooth infection is only being treated by painkillers and if the infection spreads it could become critical. Due to overcrowding in the prison and the limited facilities, they have not received adequate treatment."
There are reportedly many other sick inmates and, Christians said there is "a constant risk of picking up other viruses."
"This is the most urgent matter for prayer - that the Lord heals them directly and miraculously for the glory of His name and their encouragement," Pray for Iran said.
Rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) said it remains hopeful that Iran will eventually release the women. "We welcome the move by the Iranian court to drop the charges of anti-state activities against Maryam and Marzieh," added ICC Regional Manager for Africa and the Middle East Jonathan Racho.
"We urge Iranian officials to drop charges of apostasy and propagation of Christianity, as well. As party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran has an obligation to respect the right of Maryam and Marzieh to follow the religion of their choice.”
Iranian Christians say there has been growing "government intimidation" of Christians in Iran. In recent months dozens of Christians are known to have been imprisoned and there were reportedly some cases of torture.