An Iranian judge charged two jailed female converts with "crimes" of apostasy and propagation of the Christian faith, a human rights group reported.
Washington D.C.-based International Christian Concern said it has learned from Elam ministries in Iran Wednesday that Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Amirizadeh were unexpectedly taken to appear before the court Tuesday morning and were formally charged by the judge.
Elam is a ministry that specializes in serving the growing church in Iran.
However, in a positive development, the report said, the judge had dropped the earlier charge of anti-state activities. Their case has now been transferred from the revolutionary court to the regular courts. The women and their lawyer are pleased with this development, it stated.
The two converts were arrested on March 5 for leaving Islam and embracing Christianity. They were placed in a solitary confinement in the infamous Evin prison, deprived of medical attention and often blindfolded during interrogations for several hours over the course of five months without being charged.
Iranian officials accused them of "anti-state activities" following their conversion from Islam to Christianity. After five months, they were tried on August 9 by the revolutionary court and ordered to recant their faith in Christ which they said they will never do. The women remained in prison until they appeared again in court on Tuesday when they were finally charged.
Elam ministries said both of them are in poor health. On October 4, Rustampoor suffered severe food poisoning and was given medical attention after much insistence.
In an interview with the Voice of America Persian News Network, Rustampoor and Amirizadeh's lawyer said, "My clients are not prepared to lie about their faith under any condition."
ICC has meanwhile welcomed the latest decision of the court to not charge the duo with anti-state activities that will merit them capital punishment.
"We welcome the move by the Iranian court to drop the charges of anti-state activities against Maryam and Marzieh. We urge Iranian officials to drop charges of apostasy and propagation of Christianity, as well," said Jonathan Racho, ICC's regional manager for Africa and the Middle East.
"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," he added.
ICC has requested Christians worldwide to "continue to pray for the release of the two converts and also for the "improvement of their health."