Imprisoned for distributing Bibles in Iran, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh saw its verses of suffering and forgiveness come alive.
Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh spent a harrowing eight months in one of Iran’s most notorious prisons because of their Christian faith. Born and raised as Muslims, both women grew unsatisfied with the teachings of the Koran and converted to Christianity after personal encounters with Jesus.
Sensing a call from God, Marziyeh and Maryam spent several years in Tehran passing out Bibles and talking about Jesus. They were arrested in 2009 for promoting Christianity, and were ordered to renounce their faith or face execution. Refusing to turn from Christ, the women spent almost a year in the women’s ward of Evin Prison, where they saw the harsh effects of Islamic law on women and, consequently, found hearts that were open to the hope of Jesus, according to Christianity Today.
After international pressure from the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups, the women were released in November 2009. They left Iran to continue ministry through writing and speaking in the United States.
Freelance reporter Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra spoke with both women about their memoir, Captive in Iran: A Remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph Amid the Horror of Tehran’s Brutal Evin Prison (Tyndale Momentum).
For several years you passed out Bibles and talked about Jesus in Iran, which is illegal there. Was it inevitable that you would be arrested and imprisoned?
Marziyeh: We both had the same vision from God for evangelizing Iranian people by distributing Bibles. God showed me how Iran is like land that needs seed. He told me, “I will raise and grow this.” Maryam also had a dream about this, so we became sure it was God’s will.
We decided to cover all parts of Tehran. …
The Two Iranian Christian women who once faced the threat of execution for their faith have described the conditions inside Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, calling it “the most brutal prison in the world”.
Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, who spent eight months there in 2009/10, now live in the US, where they were granted asylum after their release. They wrote about their experiences in a book, ‘Captive in Iran’, published in 2013.
In an interview with the UK’s Times newspaper, the two women explained the conditions they are likely to be experiencing.
“One day is like a year,” says Rostampour. “Some days you can’t breathe because you don’t know what’s going to happen to you the next day.”
It has been many years since their release, but she says: “When people experience living in Evin Prison they will never be the same again. The stress is too much. We can’t be the same people. We can’t be as happy as before. We don’t enjoy activities like normal people because all the time we think of those who are still there.”
Rostampour and Amirizadeh, describe how they converted to Christianity at a Christian conference in Turkey in 2005 and then turned their Tehran flat into a “house church” and set about distributing an estimated 20,000 copies of the New Testament.
Following their arrest in 2009, they were transferred to a women’s cell in Evin Prison, where they were forced to sleep on the floor in a room with 30-40 other prisoners. They say there was just one small window with no view and that the temperature was sweltering in summer and freezing in winter. The lights were kept on all night, while a television incessantly blasted out state propaganda, persecution watchdog World Watch Monitor, reports.
They say they were denied medical treatment because of their faith and that they were seen as “dirty infidels”.
“They treated us like animals,” Amirizadeh says.
Rostampour and Amirizadeh also spent 40 days in an interrogation building, where they were asked repeatedly to deny their Christian faith, while interrogators demanded the names of the people who had attended their “house church” and asked them to sign forced confessions.
“If you don’t give us the information we need, we’ll beat you till you vomit blood,” they were told.
Rostampour and Amirizadeh say their interrogators often cited the examples of well-known Christian pastors who had been hanged.
“We can do anything to you and nobody can stop us,” they were told. “Here we are the law and we can do whatever we want.”
The women say the international attention given to their case helped secure their release and also helped them survive their time in jail.
“If a prisoner’s case got attention, they stopped torturing or raping them because they knew the world was watching,” Amirizadeh says. “We heard of many cases of prisoners who had no voice outside, and many things happened to them.”
Following their release, the two women say they felt they “could not live in Iran any more as Christians”, having been warned by their interrogators they may one day suffer an “accident”.
But even so, Rostampour says: “Iran is our country. It’s our home. We miss the streets and the mountains. We have family and friends there. We’re heartbroken for our country and pray that one day our country can be free from this brutal regime.”
Iran ranks 9th on persecution watchdog, Open Doors 2019 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most deadly to be a Christian.