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04/15/2020 Iran (International Christian Concern) – A third Iranian Christian, Fatemeh Bakhteri, has received notice from the prison authorities that she need not return to serve her sentence after being placed on furlough because of COVID-19. She was instead told on Easter, nearly a month after being furloughed, that she was pardoned because of the Persian New Year. Bakhteri was half way through serving a 12-month jail sentence for “propaganda against the regime” in Evin Prison.  

Like Bakhteri, the two other Christians who also had their prison sentences canceled were on an extended furlough as part of the government’s attempt to contain COVID-19 within the jails. Seven Christians had received prison furloughs because of the virus, as part of tens of thousands who had also received furloughs. Christians and others who had a prison sentence longer than 5 years were not included. The sentences most commonly placed on Christians fall into this category. Several Christian prisoners who are in this group are appealing their sentences and/or have requested leave because of concerns regarding the virus. These requests have been denied.

Iran is considered the epicenter for COVID-19 in the Middle East. Fissures within the government have widened concerning a proper pandemic response. Many citizens have expressed both anger at the government’s apparent disregard for its people, and distrust at how the authorities are handling the situation. The crisis of COVID-19 has led to a significant easing back on persecution of Christians in general. However, many Persian Christians believe that this is only until the government is able to control the pandemic. It is fully expected by the local church that significant persecution will resume again, perhaps even worse, post-COVID-19.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org.