Deep inside the walls of Evin Prison in Iran’s capital city of Tehran, a team of officials guard as many as 15,000 inmates they deem some of the most dangerous offenders under the current Islamic regime.
The charges include murder, rape, and theft. For nearly 300 days in 2009, the offenders in Evin Prison also included a pair of young women facing a charge they didn’t deny: embracing Christianity.
Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh gained international attention after their arrests in Tehran in March 2009. Authorities charged the Christian women with apostasy, anti-government activity, and blasphemy—all capital crimes in the Islamic republic.
The arrests stemmed from a flurry of Christian activity over three years. The women, who met at a conference in Turkey in 2005, had spoken with many others about Christianity, and had hosted Bible studies in an apartment they shared near the prison. One Bible study, called “Mary Magdalene,” served prostitutes.
The pair also distributed some 20,000 New Testaments across Tehran and other cities. (These Farsi-language Scriptures offered an accurate translation that countered state-endorsed Bibles depicting Jesus as only a prophet.)
It’s unclear how much Iranian authorities knew about the women’s activities, but during a raid on their apartment, they confiscated Bibles and other Christian material. During interrogations, they pressured the women to cease all Christian activity.
They refused, and Amirizadeh remembers telling one interrogator: “Unless you cut out my tongue, I will keep feeding the people’s hunger for truth about Jesus.”
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