Women await trial verdict

By August 14, 2009

Iran (MNN) — Maryam Rustampoor
and Marzieh Amirizadeh stood trial for their faith in an Iranian court on
August 8. 

Imprisoned since March 5, both
women have suffered deteriorating health. They have endured interrogation and a lack of medical attention at the infamous Evin prison. Nevertheless, the women witnessed boldly for
the Gospel at their trial, said Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs.

"They were instructed very
clearly to renounce their faith; in fact, they were told that they needed to
renounce Christianity  verbally, and they also needed to write it out and
sign it. They both replied 'No, we
will not deny our faith,'" said Nettleton.  "And
interestingly, ‘We have no regrets' is another thing they said in the
courtroom, knowing full well that for somebody who was a Muslim and then became
a Christian in Iran, that's apostasy. And
the penalty for that can be pretty severe." 

The women were arrested because
of their work in Iran's house church movement and because they were raised in
Muslim families. In their trial,
however, they argued that being raised in Muslim families did not make them
Muslim – therefore they are not apostates from Islam. 

"They made a distinction between
being born in a Muslim family and actually making a conscious decision to
follow Islam, to follow the teachings of Mohammad," Nettleton said. "The judge and the prosecuting attorney
didn't really go for that because, in their minds, if your parents are Muslims, then
you're a Muslim; it's not a conscious decision." 

At one point in the trial,
according to International Christian Concern, a prosecutor made the statement, "It is impossible for
God to speak with humans." Marzieh asked
in reply, "Are you questioning whether God is Almighty?" The prosecutor said, "You are not worthy for
God to speak to you." Marzieh then said, "It is God, and not you, who determines
if I am worthy." 

Now the women are back in prison,
waiting to hear the verdict of the judge. The large number of arrests made during the election protests could
delay the verdict, which could be very severe.

"One of the penalties for
apostasy within the Iranian court system is the death penalty," Nettleton said. "Typically that is not given to women, but
it is one of the possibilities for an apostate. So what is probably more likely than the
death penalty is perhaps a long imprisonment." 

VOM has received reports that the
women were suffering from health problems, and an infection was spreading in
their prison and in the cell where they live with many other women. If they receive a long prison sentence, VOM
hopes the Iranian government will provide them with medical care. 

"If you are going to keep them in
prison, at least provide adequate medical care for their needs. That seems to be a basic human right,
but it's not something that they've been afforded up to now," Nettleton
said. 

The women will have the option of
appealing their verdict, but it's not likely the verdict could be changed,
since the mullahs hold the political power in Iran. Christians in the country seem to be facing
rising persecution. Dozens were arrested
and interrogated recently, though most were then released. 

"This trial is one part of a
strategy by the Iranian government to really put some pressure on evangelical
Christians in the country," Nettleton said. "The government there, and particularly the religious leaders, sees…literally
thousands of Muslims choosing to follow Jesus. And they want to stop that…so they respond with
this type of crackdown; they respond with arrests, interrogations, trials."

The church is growing in Iran
partly because of the close relationship between Islam and the government. 

"Because [Iran] is run by the
mullahs, when there's dissatisfaction with the government, it produces
dissatisfaction with Islam, because they see Islam and the government as being
one and the same," Nettleton explained. "The
people of Iran are not satisfied with their government. We saw that when they took to the streets
after the election and marched and demanded change. That same sentiment is also producing fertile
fields for planting the Gospel, because they're dissatisfied with Islam as
well."

Pray for health and strength for
Maryam and Marzieh as they await the outcome of the trial. Pray too that they will
receive justice from the legal system. Nettleton also encouraged Christians to pray for the salvation of Muslims
and government leaders.    

"Even president Ahmadinejad: let's
pray that he will…have a time where he comes to know Jesus in a personal way,
because that could radically change that country," Nettleton said. The church in Iran also needs prayer. 

"We need to pray thatbelievers won't
be intimidated, that they will answer the call, that they will continue to be
bold witnesses for Christ — in spite of persecution, in spite of this kind of
pressure being brought to bear against them," Nettleton said.

You can support Maryam and Marzieh by praying and writing them a letter. 

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