Iran drops apostasy charges against women converts

Two female converts in Iran were acquitted of all charges and arrived safely in another country on Saturday.

Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh were cleared of apostasy, anti-state activities, and participating in illegal gatherings, according to Elam Ministries, an Iran-focused ministry that has followed the case since the beginning.

Iranian authorities warned the women that they faced serious consequences if they continue their Christian activities in Iran.

The founders of Elam Ministries, Sam and Lin Yeghnazar, received the two young women at an airport in an undisclosed country on Saturday. The name of the country was withheld for security reasons.

“It was very emotional when we first saw them,” said Lin Yeghnazar. “Now, we want to see them rest and recover.”

Rostampour and Amirizadeh were arrested in March 2009 on charges of anti-state activity and for “taking part in illegal gatherings”, in other words, involvement with house churches. They were detained in the notorious Evin prison, a facility known for its human rights violations, while their trial took place in Tehran.

The young converts suffered psychological abuse during their detainment, including sleep deprivation and intense interrogation lasting hours. They also suffered from health problems but were denied medical attention.

In prison, they were pressured to renounce their new Christian faith and to return to Islam but they repeatedly refused.

During an August 9 court hearing, they reportedly told the judge, “We love Jesus,” “Yes, we are Christians,” and, “We will not deny our faith.” In October they learned that a third charge of apostasy had been added.

They were conditionally released on November 18, but updates on their condition in April revealed that the two women were still in frail physical condition.

“We are most grateful to everyone who prayed for us,” said Amirizadeh in a statement Saturday. “I have no doubt that God heard the prayers of His people.”

Rostampour also thanked Christians worldwide for their prayers, which she credits for sustaining them throughout the ordeal. She said eventually they would like to share what occurred during their detainment, but for now they wanted to pray and “seek the Lord for His will”.

In Iran it is illegal for Muslims to convert to Christianity, although Christians are allowed to convert to Islam.

Over the past year, authorities have shut down at least three churches and accused them of converting Muslims. None of the three churches have been given permission to re-open yet.