By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Two young Christian women who faced execution or at least life imprisonment in Iran for converting from Islam to Christianity were to be released as early as Tuesday, November 17, after international pressure and prayers, their representatives told BosNewsLife.
Elam Ministries, a group founded by senior Iranian church leaders, said Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, and Maryam Rustampoor, 27, were told over the weekend they would be freed following some 257 days imprisonment in one of Tehran’s most notorious prisons.
Their release was already expected Monday November 16, but other Christians cautioned it may take a little bit longer due to bureaucratic procedures. “We understand after their release they might have to attend court hearings,” cautioned Elam Ministries in a statement. However, “We are rejoicing at the prospect of their release but would ask you to pray for their full and unconditional release, and for their safety and quick recovery.”
Both women, who reportedly suffer health problems, were detained March 5 for converting to Christianity, after their apartment had been searched and their Bibles and other items were confiscated, Christians said.
During solitary confinement, interrogations “for many hours while blindfolded” and other mistreatment in Tehran’s Evin prison, they were pressured to return to Islam in exchange for freedom or a leaner sentence, well-informed Christians told BosNewsLife earlier.
Both women refused, reportedly telling the persecution during a court hearing: “We love Jesus,” and “Yes, we are Christians.”
The prosecution allegedly demanded that the women “renounce” their faith “verbally and in written form,” but they refused saying: “We will not deny our faith [in Christ].”
During one tense moment in the questioning, Rustampoor and Esmaeilabad made reference to their belief that God had spoken to them through the “Holy Spirit”, observers said. After a deputy prosecutor reportedly told them “It is impossible for God to speak with humans,” Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad reportedly wondered: “Are you questioning whether God is Almighty?”
Their expected release, despite their refusal to recant their faith, follows international pressure and prayers from around the world, Christians said. International media, including BosNewsLife, also covered the case extensively.
The case underlined reported mounting pressure on especially former Muslims who converted to Christianity in Iran. Under Iran’s strict interpretation of Islam, anyone converting to another religion could face the death penalty or at least life imprisonment, several observers said.
Several Christians remain detained in Iran and security forces have raided churches and Christian homes.