Members of the Iranian Christian Fellowship in Britain are invoking prayers for the release of two women converts from Islam to Christianity who some fear may face the death sentence in Iran if they refuse to recant their faith.
"We believe in the power of prayer and know that Iranian Christians in Britain are praying for the safe release of these two women," Theresa Malinowska, press officer at the London-based rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide told Ecumenical News International.
Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh, 30, were arrested by Iranian security officers on March 5 after their apartment in Tehran was searched and their Bibles confiscated. They have refused to recant their faith after being ordered to do so by a Tehran revolutionary court on August 9.
CSW said they had since been returned to Tehran's Evin prison, where they have been held since their arrest. Neither woman had committed a crime as defined under Iranian or international law, the human rights group stated.
"These innocent women have been unjustly kept in solitary confinement and subjected to harsh interrogation despite suffering from ill health," said CSW's advocacy director, Tina Lambert. "They are held solely on the basis of exercising their most basic human right, freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Our concerns for them are heightened by the current volatility in Iran, evidenced by scores of unlawful detention and gross human rights abuses."
Christians born in Iran, but who are now living in Britain, believe that the women could face the death penalty.
"We must pray for them, we must write letters to newspapers, the Iranian Embassy in London and do everything in our power to draw attention to the plight of these two courageous Christian women," Pastor Khosrow Ariaman of the Mehr (Parsi for 'love') Church in Brighton in southern England, told ENI.
The situation of Christians in Iran was debated in February 2006 in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the British parliament. In the debate, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester said: "Their properties have been confiscated and they live in constant fear of being reported to the Basiji, or revolutionary guard. Their survival and welfare should be in our minds."
In an interview on August 17, Nazir-Ali told ENI: "It is very important that we speak out on this issue and ask: What crime have these women committed? We are told that there is religious freedom in Iran. I hope so."
The bishop urged Christians to send protest letters to the Iranian ambassador in London, letters to newspapers and to human rights organizations and to human rights officials at the United Nations. "And of course pray -- the power of prayer is enormous."