Young converts previously held in prison for Christian activities have fled country.
ISTANBUL, May 27 (CDN) — Nearly five months after releasing them from prison, an Iranian court has acquitted two women of all charges related to being Christians and engaging in Christian activities.
Iranians Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad were arrested on March 5, 2009 and detained on charges of “acting against state security,” “taking part in illegal gatherings” and “apostasy” (leaving Islam) under Iran’s Revolutionary Court system.
After nearly eight months, on Nov. 18, 2009 authorities released them conditionally.
Although the court hearing their case originally set April 13 as their trial date, Compass was unable to confirm on what date the two women were acquitted, nor the conditions of their acquittal.
Senior Iranian judges and officials repeatedly intimidated the two women and pressured them to recant their faith, according to a press statement by Elam Ministries last week.
“They were warned that any future Christian activity in Iran will be seriously dealt with,” according to the statement.
Elam Ministries said the two women had fled Iran on Saturday (May 22) to an undisclosed location and were recovering.
Another Iranian convert who was forced to flee his country under similar circumstances years ago told Compass that he believed the intense lobbying efforts to release and acquit the women brought the government to an unspoken “standoff” with Christian rights groups outside the country.
“I think the court just made a political decision, ‘We will let you go, but we will not allow you to stay in the country,’” said the Iranian Christian, who requested anonymity. “That’s a pretty old-fashioned procedure they have – ‘We will let you go if you leave the country. You can have your faith, but not here.’”
In general, when Iranian authorities arrest Christians, they release them on bail within a few weeks and keep their case files open, thus applying soft pressure while allowing them to continue living in Iran. In cases where the government wants to remove Christians from the country because of their Christian activities, authorities have handed the Christians their passports and documents and told them to leave.
Iran’s government views all Christian activities as foreign intervention and thus a threat to national security. The two women’s families had hired a private lawyer.
Since their release, the young converts to Christianity had been waiting for a trial date and decision from an Iranian court to decide their fate as Christians living their faith. During this time, sources said that authorities watched them closely and that the two women were under “pressure” and received threatening phone calls.
“The government would not want them to stay in the country as heroes,” said the Iranian Christian. “It would be better for the government if they left Iran and didn’t become a positive example for the rest of the Christian community in Iran. Otherwise they would create a precedent of [Christians] who have not denied their faith, who have been acquitted and still live as Christians inside the country.”
The two women thanked Christians who have been praying for them, according to Elam.
“We hope to eventually share some of what the Lord allowed us to go through to highlight the need and the opportunity for the church in Iran, but right now we will take time to pray and seek the Lord for His will,” said Rostampour, according to Elam’s press statement.
Iran’s Constitution gives Christians “protected” religious minority status, but in practice they face substantial societal discrimination, according to the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report 2009.
An article mandating death for apostates in accordance with sharia (Islamic law) reportedly has been stricken from a draft penal code, but experts on Iran say The Council of Guardians and Iran’s Supreme Leader still have the final say on who receives capital punishment for leaving Islam.