Two Iranian poets who face lashings and prison sentences have fled Iran, one of the writers said Monday, a rare escape for local artists and activists ensnared in an ongoing crackdown on expression in the country.

Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi’s freedom came as world powers lifted sanctions on Iran over its contested nuclear program and as the country separately freed four Iranian-Americans in exchange for seven Iranians held in the U.S.

The poets’ escape is a reminder that despite the growing detente with the West, hard-liners still exert control over much of life in the Islamic Republic, which is one of the world’s top jailers of journalists.

“Iranian political prisoners who are imprisoned on similarly baseless charges and do not hold a foreign passport do not get the same attention,” Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said in a statement this weekend. “This is a continuing travesty of justice.”

Ekhtesari, a practicing obstetrician, told The Associated Press on Monday that both she and Mousavi, a trained doctor who teaches literature and poetry, escaped from Iran in recent days and made it to another country. She declined to elaborate out of continuing concerns about their safety.

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