Three Members of Iran’s Writers Association Charged With National Security Crimes for Opposing Censorship
Three senior members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) have been charged with national security crimes for peacefully protesting state censorship policies, according to a statement posted by the trade union on Facebook on January 22, 2019.
IWA board members Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Keyvan Bajan were charged with “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security” and “encouraging women into corruption and prostitution” for allegedly printing declarations and internal publications opposing the censorship of art and literature in Iran, said the statement.
Mahabadi and Abtin were released from Tehran’s Evin Prison on January 27 and 28 respectively after being detained on January 22. During their detention, they were denied access to counsel and only released after posting bail set at one billon tomans (approximately $237,000 USD at the time) set by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh of Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
Bajan is also expected to post bail “in the next few days,” Mahabadi told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) after he was released.
“The detained IWA members asked for time to get a lawyer and exercise their right to defense but Judge Moghiseh said they were capable of defending themselves and effectively rejected their right to have a lawyer,” said the IWA statement.
“Then he raised the bail amount for each one of them from 100 million tomans to a billion tomans. Unable to post bail, the IWA members were taken into custody and transferred to Evin Prison,” added the statement.
Abtin, Mahabadi and Bajan were initially accused of printing internal documents and publications without a permit in the spring of 2015 and charged with “propaganda against the state” based on a complaint from the Intelligence Ministry, which operates under President Hassan Rouhani.
At the time, Baktash was detained for several days while Mahabadi and Bajan were summoned for questioning before they were all charged.
Three years later, Judge Moghiseh added two more charges to their open cases: “assembly and collusion against national security” and “encouraging women to corruption and prostitution” for allegedly publishing an IWA statement that criticized security forces for arresting citizens who have peacefully protested the state’s compulsory hijab law.
“I would like to emphasize that these pressures have been brought on by the security and judicial agencies,” Mahabadi told CHRI in June 2018.
“But the imprisonments, beatings and intimidations will not deter me or my colleagues from defending freedom of speech and seeking the truth and punishment of those responsible for the chain murders,” he added.
In June 2018, Abtin, a poet and filmmaker, was sentenced to three months of community service to be performed for the State Welfare Organization of Iran and five million tomans ($1,182 USD) for posting a photo of a man injured by police on his Instagram account.
The IWA, an independent group of authors, poets, editors and translators based in Iran was formed in May 1968 to fight against state censorship.
Governments before and after Iran’s 1979 revolution have persecuted its members.
In 1998, writer Majid Sharif, opposition politician Dariush Forouhar, his wife Parvaneh Eskandari and writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh—all IWA members—were murdered in cold blood.
An investigation by President Mohammad Khatami’s reformist government concluded that the murders had been carried out by “rogue elements in the Intelligence Ministry,” forcing the minister in charge, Ghorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, to resign.
Top ministry officials Saeed Eslami (Emami), Mostafa Kazemi and Mehrdad Alikhani were also arrested, and information about the murders was leaked to the media.
During a judicial inquiry, the prosecution revealed that the chain murders were part of a systematic policy to physically eliminate political and cultural dissidents inside and outside of Iran—a policy that had begun a decade earlier with the assassination of moderate opposition politician Kazemi Sami on November 23, 1988.