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Iranian Prisoner Flees Short-Term Release, Arrives in Canada

FILE - Supporters demonstrate for the release of Saeed Malekpour, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Jan. 22, 2012. Malekpour, 35, a Canadian-Iranian software engineer, was facing imminent execution in Tehran for allegedly operating a pornography website.

Updated Aug. 4, 3:15 a.m.

An Iranian serving a life sentence on a conviction of designing a pornographic website has fled the country while on short-term release from prison and has arrived in Canada, the foreign ministry and his family said.

“Canada welcomes the news that Saeed Malekpour has been reunited with his family in Canada,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement received by AFP.

“We have advocated for Mr. Malekpour’s release and are pleased that he is now in Canada,” the spokesman said, without elaborating because of privacy considerations.

Furloughed, didn't return

Iranian authorities Saturday confirmed state television reports that Malekpour, who is also a permanent resident of Canada, had left the Islamic republic.

“This individual was barred from leaving the country and has apparently left … via unofficial channels and has not returned,” said judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.

“This individual was sentenced to life in jail and had served more than 11 years of his sentence,” Esmaili said, quoted by the judiciary’s official news agency, Mizan Online.

He said Malekpour was given a three-day furlough July 20 and by the end of it did not turn himself in to the prison.

Family thanks Canada

His sister posted a video on Twitter confirming he had returned to Canada.

“My brother Saeed Malekpour has just arrived to Canada! The nightmare is finally over!” Maryam Malekpour said.

“Thank you Canada for your leadership. And thank you to every single person who supported us throughout this time. Together we prevailed,” she added.

Canadian media said he had landed in Vancouver n Friday.

Dangerous journey

Payam Akhavan, a professor at McGill University in Montreal who supported Malekpour, told CBC TV that his family in Iran and his lawyer knew nothing about the escape.

Citing Akhavan, CBC said Iran released Malekpour under “intense pressure” and that he escaped through a third country, which was not identified.

“It was far from certain that the plan to bring him to Canada would succeed. So we are all very relieved,” Akhavan said in a phone interview with CBC. “It was dangerous. Really, until he set foot in Canada we were not sure that everything would go according to plan.”

Denies accusations

Malekpour was arrested in December 2008 in Iran when he returned to his native land to visit his dying father. He was accused of operating a pornographic website.

He was initially sentenced to death, but that was commuted to life in prison in August 2013.

According to reports at the time, he had been found guilty on three counts, including “designing and moderating adult content websites” and “insulting the sanctity of Islam”.

Malekpour has denied the charges against him.