The story of imprisoned American Pastor Saeed Abedini is focusing attention on the treatment of Christians in Iran. This week in Washington, DC, two Iranian Christian women told their own story of persecution at the hands of the Iranian authorities.
Marziyeh Amirizadeh and Maryam Rostampour are co-authors of a new book called "Captive in Iran." They addressed a Hudson Institute panel on the plight of Christians under the Iranian regime.
Both of the women were raised in Iran as Muslims but had questions about their faith. Amirizadeh learned the Koran in Arabic, but she wondered why God couldn't speak to her in her own Persian language. She experienced a number of dreams and visions of Jesus.
"I met Jesus in front of myself, and He was standing next to a large throne that was covered with shining gold," Amirizadeh said.
Amirizadeh and Rostampour both made the decision to become Christians and met while studying theology in Turkey. Later, they felt led to go back to their home country.
"God gave us this vision to distribute the Bible among the Iranian people," Amirizadeh explained. The two women started north of Tehran, the capital, and moved to the southern part of the country, carrying some 20,000 Bibles in their backpacks at night and putting them in mailboxes.
"We also had two house churches, one of them was for prostitutes and the other one for young people in our own apartment," said Amirizadeh.
In March, 2009, Amirizadeh and Rostampour were arrested for their house church activities. When Iranian authorities brought them in, they were interrogated for an entire day.
Rostampour described how they were put in a prison basement.
"There was a dirty and dark cell in the basement and they threatened us [with] physical torture. They said that, 'You need to give us all the information that we need, otherwise we will beat you until your womb is blood.'"
The women say the guards didn't physically torture them, but they were sent to Tehran's infamous Evin prison, where American Pastor Sayeed Abedini has been held and tortured.
Rostampour claims the two interrogators tried to convince them to deny their faith and threatened them with execution. In fact, they say officials at 10 different trials confronted them with the possibility of hanging.
After spending most of a year in prison, the two women were eventually released after Christians around the world publicized their case.
"We believe that the first reason we are here today and we are free is God's grace and God's will," said Rostampour. "And the second reason is support of all Christians from all around the world."
Rostampour and Amirizadeh are urging believers to write letters to Iranians imprisoned for their faith.
Meanwhile, The American Center for Law and Justice reports that thousands of Christians have flooded Evin Prison with letters of concern for Pastor Abedini. He has suffered dangerous internal bleeding from the torture and abuse at the hands of the Iranian regime. Despite pleas from the West, his request for medical treatment has so far been denied.