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Coronavirus: Christian woman released from prison during Covid-19 outbreak is free for good.

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A Christian woman temporarily released from prison in Iran because of the coronavirus pandemic has been told she does not need to return to jail.

Fatemeh Bakhteri was one of thousands of prisoners released on a temporary basis in Iran as part of the country’s efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19.

The 35-year-old was initially granted temporary release from Evin prison but has now been told by officials that she does not have to return because she was pardoned for the Persian New Year, celebrated last month, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports.

Ms Bakhteri, from Rasht, is a convert from Islam and a member of the Church of Iran. She was sentenced to a year in prison in September 2018 for “spreading propaganda against the regime”.

CSW reports that during the trial, the judge offered Ms Bakhteri her freedom if she returned to Islam. She was handed a prison sentence after refusing to renounce her Christian faith.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas welcomed her release but criticised her treatment at the hands of the regime.

He called the charges against her “unfounded” and said they “amount to criminalising Christian activities”.

“Ms Bakhteri has spent a year away from her loved ones for discussing Christian doctrine with fellow Christians, which is not illegal,” he said.

“She is amongst many Iranians who are being penalised for adopting a religion of their choice, an action which is protected under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party.

“Given the reported spread of COVID-19 in the country’s prison system, CSW urges the international community to press the Iranian authorities to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, and to end the harassment of religious communities.”