A ministry that supports persecuted Christians launched a campaign Thursday to press Iran to release two young female converts who have been detained for eight months in one of the most notorious prisons in the country.
Open Doors USA is calling on people to send a "respectful" message to Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaee to request that Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, be released immediately.
"Maryam and Marzieh are suffering in an Iranian prison simply for refusing to recant their belief in Jesus Christ…they truly are modern heroes of the faith," said Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. "We must speak out against this injustice."
Rostampour and Esmaeilabad have been held in the notorious Evin prison – the same penitentiary that American journalist Roxana Saberi was held in – since March 5. They were originally accused of "acting against state security" and "taking part in illegal gatherings," according to Compass Direct News.
After an Oct. 7 court hearing, however, the judge dropped the anti-state charge. But the women still face the charges of propagation of the Christian faith and apostasy.
Elam Ministries, a group that supports churches in Iran, has noted that it is rare that a judge acquits the defendants of the charge of anti-state activities. The ministry, which has been following the case closely, said it is hopeful with the unexpected turn of events.
However, Open Doors raised concern about the deteriorating health of the women. According to sources, the two women are suffering from intense interrogations and reportedly psychological pressure, including sleep deprivation.
Moreover, Esmaeilabad is enduring pain from a long-time spinal condition, an infected tooth and intense headaches. She is in need of medical attention, but reportedly none has been provided.
The two converts also believed to be sharing a cell with over 20 other women. Evin prison is well-known for its human rights violations as well as for executions in recent years.
Despite the harsh conditions, both women have refused to renounce their Christian faith. At an Aug. 9 court hearing, the Iranian judge had asked the two converts to recant their faith and return to Islam.
The women, however, refused and said they "love Jesus" and will "not recent their faith," according to Elam Ministries. They also said they have no regrets.
Subsequently, the women were sent back to prison "to think about it," according to a Compass Direct source who spoke with family members.
Open Doors ranks Iran as No. 3 in its 2009 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most severe persecution. The U.S. State Department has designated Iran as one of seven "Countries of Particular Concern." The CPC designation is given to the worst religious freedom violators and can lead to U.S. sanctions.
On Thursday, Open Doors USA Carl Moeller urged people to join the campaign to press the Iranian government to release the two women converts. The ministry also calls for Christians to pray for Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad on Sunday, Nov. 8, during the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
A sample e-mail letter to send to the Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. Mohammad Khazaee and to the government in Iran is available at the Open Doors USA Web site. Open Doors USA has requested that people not refer to the ministry in their e-mails.
On the Web: