There's a bookmark in my Bible that shows the winsome faces of two attractive 20-something dark-haired, brown-eyed Iranians with a kind of alluring beauty that makes Persian women some of the loveliest women on earth.
What natural beauty Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, had at the beginning of the year has certainly disappeared after a six-month stint in one of the world's worst jails. Marzieh especially suffers from back problems, an infected tooth and blinding headaches.
Members of Iran's tiny and much-persecuted Christian minority, they were arrested March 5 for "acting against state security" and "taking part in illegal gatherings" and left to rot in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Their families have tried to bail them out, to no avail.
On Aug. 9, the two gaunt women were brought before a revolutionary court and told to recant, according to a transcript provided by the Britain-based Elam Ministries.
"You were Muslims and now you have become Christians?" the prosecutor asked them.
"We were born in Muslim families, but we were not Muslims," was the women's reply.
When he asked them whether they regretted becoming Christians, "We have no regrets," the women replied. When he told them to renounce their beliefs, "We will not deny our faith," they said.
At one point, they got into a theological debate while trying to explain how the Holy Spirit speaks to them.
"It is impossible for God to speak with humans," the prosecutor said.
"Are you questioning whether God is almighty?" Marzieh asked.
"You are not worthy for God to speak to you," the prosecutor said.
"It is God, and not you, who determines if I am worthy," Marzieh replied.
When they were told to return to prison and think over their options, "We have already done our thinking," the women said.
These women aren't the only religious minority to suffer the wrath of Iran's mullahs. Seven long-suffering Baha'is have been in Evin prison since spring 2008 on charges of "espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic." Their trial has been set for Oct. 18. No official charges have been filed nor have the Baha'is been given access to their lawyer, much less freed on bail.
What alarms Baha'is worldwide is that 25 years ago, members of Iran's national-level Baha'i leadership were rounded up in a similar manner, and executed. Since 1978, 219 Baha'is have died or are missing.
The local Baha'i community, which represents 3,000 people in the Washington area, is having an event to raise awareness at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University. Speakers include actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, who appears in "The Stoning of Soraya M."; Azar Nafisi, author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran"; and Dwight Bashir, senior analyst at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Hopefully the Evin prison will, like the Bastille, be torn down some day. Or like Cape Town's infamous Robben Island - which imprisoned Nelson Mandela for 25 years - Evin will become a World Heritage Site, a place where tourists will go to remember the horrors that once happened there.
• Julia Duin's Stairway to Heaven column runs Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.