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70,000 prisoners released in Iran—pray with Christians still jailed

March 17, 2020 by Global Christian Relief in Middle East

“Recent reports indicate that the COVID-19 virus has spread inside Iranian prisons,” Javaid Rehman, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said in Geneva.

The immediate release freed an estimated 70,000 prisoners, including six Christians. However at least 11 believers serving longer-term, security-related sentences will remain imprisoned. That includes Christians like Nasser-Navard Gol-tepeh who has been sentenced to 10 years for “crimes against national security.”

Article18 reported the Christians who remain in prison are serving longer sentences on security-related charges, even though one family member of a security prisoner noted that the virus is “unaware of [the length of] sentences when it infects people.”

Also known to be still in detention in Iran on charges related to the peaceful practice of their faith are nine Christian converts from the northern city of Rasht: Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoost, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada.. Their five-year prison sentences were recently upheld, even though neither they, nor their lawyers, were permitted to attend the hearing. Five of the men are among the at least 11 Christians. They were arrested during raids on their homes and house churches.

Christian activist Mary (Fatemeh) Mohammadi was among the prisoners recently granted temporary leave from Qarchak women’s prison. In detention, she was severely tortured and beaten so badly that the bruises were still visible on her body three weeks later. 

On Facebook, Mary wrote that the date of her court hearing has been rescheduled for Tuesday, April 14, 2020. “What a haste for sentencing during the #coronavirus crisis especially in jails!,” she writes. “Putting people in prison should be considered a big crime against humanity!”

Rehman welcomed the reported release of tens of thousands of prisoners on short-term leave to combat the spread of the virus, but called on the Iranian authorities to also release prisoners on longer-term, security-related sentences.

Coronavirus outbreak in Iran

According to official figures (as of March 16, 2020), deaths from coronavirus in Iran total 853, including at least 12 deaths of Iranian officials and politicians, with reports of 14,000+ cases throughout the country. The country is battling the worst outbreak in the Middle East.

The number of coronavirus deaths and infections has been on the rise in Iran ever since the country reported the first two fatalities on February 19.

Reportedly, the official leading Iran’s response to the new coronavirus acknowledged on Sunday the pandemic could overwhelm health facilities in the country. “If the trend continues, there will not be enough capacity,” Ali Reza Zali, who is leading the campaign against the outbreak.

Reports note that Iran is believed to have about 110,000 hospital beds, including 30,000 in the capital, Tehran. Authorities have pledged to set up mobile clinics as needed.

Please pray with us for Iran and the estimated 800,000 Christians in the country where leaving Islam is illegal. And pray with believers who remain imprisoned. On Facebook, Mary shared:

“The hell of #qarchak has always been the source of all types of diseases. In the crisis of the #coronavirus, the situation of the qarchak had become worse and today we are witness to the disaster in qarchak … The test of one of the prisoners has been announced positive. …The lives of our loved ones are in danger!”