As persecuted Christians around the world prepare for an Easter in lockdown, there are calls for prisoners of faith to be released from overcrowded jails where the virus could spread like wildfire.

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In recent years, the communist party has widened its persecution to include other faiths, as the atheist state continues its crackdown against religion. According to Release's China partner, between 1 and 3 million Muslim Uyghurs are being held in 're-education camps' in China, putting them at increased risk from the coronavirus.

Around the world

Elsewhere, in Eritrea, which imprisons Christians for their faith, Release's partner has warned that if the coronavirus takes hold in the country's overcrowded jails, many of the prison population, including Christians, could be at risk.

'We want all prisoners of faith to get released,' says Dr Berhane Asmelash.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea has just called for the immediate release of prisoners of conscience, pointing out that 200 were detained in 2019 for their faith.

Rapporteur Daniela Kravetz warned the coronavirus pandemic could have 'devastating consequences for the prison population in Eritrea due to. unhygienic conditions and overcrowding.'

The entire country is currently in lockdown, but 'Christians in Eritrea have been on lockdown for 30 years,' adds Dr Asmelash. 'They can't even meet in their houses - they will get raided by security. They are made to live in fear or in hiding.'

He believes the coronavirus is giving the rest of the world 'a small taste' of what it is like to live under lockdown.

From Nepal, there are reports that a Christian pastor has been arrested for praying about the virus on social media. In a church service posted on YouTube, Pastor Keshab Acharya stood against the coronavirus in the name of Jesus. Shortly afterwards, four police officers entered his home and arrested him, according to Morningstar News.

And in Pakistan, Christian families are suffering during the lockdown. One Release partner reports 26 pastors and 140 families at a brick kiln in Kasur in Punjab are now without access to food and water. There have also been media reports that Christians and Hindus are being bypassed by aid agencies.

Bringing hope

Christians are also at the forefront of efforts to support victims of the virus and bring comfort and hope.

Release partners reaching out to North Korea have received a moving testimony from a man who received the Bible in digital form.

According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea, he said the virus was spreading fast in places such as Pyongyang and Sinuiju. 'I think we will all die from starvation or being infected,' he said. 'Both are deadly and cause despair, but after knowing Him [Jesus], my fear has vanished. Thank you.'