When an Iranian judge dropped all charges against two Christian women accused of apostasy on May 22, Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh thanked supporters for their prayers and God for their freedom. "I believe our arrest, imprisonment, and subsequent release were in the timing and plan of God, and it was all for His glory," said Rostampour.
The Christian women's ordeal lasted over a year and could have ended with execution. The pair spent 259 days in Iran's notorious Evin Prison last year, accused of anti-government activity, apostasy, and propagating Christianity-crimes punishable by death. As their health deteriorated in the prison's grim conditions, they refused court officials' intense pressure to recant their faith. Their reply came in a hearing last August: "We love Jesus. We will not deny our faith."
In November, a judge acquitted the women of crimes against the state and released the pair from prison without bail. They waited six months for the May hearing, where the judge dropped all remaining charges and warned the women against any further Christian activity in the country. The pair left Iran after the hearing, bound for an undisclosed location to protect their safety.
The high-profile case captured international attention, but the scenario isn't uncommon in Iran. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently kept Iran on its list of countries of particular concern for an 11th straight year, citing the Islamic regime's abuses of religious minorities. The group said religious freedom abuses in Iran have worsened since last summer's disputed elections when authorities brutally cracked down on antigovernment demonstrators.
USCIRF reported "a significant increase in the number of incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, detaining worshippers and church leaders, and harassing and threatening church members." The report added: "Since becoming president, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for an end to the development of Christianity in Iran."
The released Iranian women said they remained determined to serve Iranian Christians in some capacity. "We hope to eventually share some of what the Lord allowed us to go through to highlight the need and opportunity for the church in Iran," said Amirizadeh. "But right now we will take time to pray and seek the Lord for His will."