Harsh Prison Terms for Three Iranian Authors Who Dared to Criticize the State
Prominent Members of Iranian Writers Association Each Sentenced to Six Years Behind Bars
May 17, 2019—In a glaring repudiation of freedom of expression and the right to peaceful dissent, the Iranian judiciary sentenced three prominent members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) to six years in prison each on May 15, 2019. The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) joins the IWA in forcefully condemning these unjust and unlawful sentences against Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bajan.
The three were convicted of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” for publishing the IWA’s internal history, printing internal publications and organizing memorial ceremonies for IWA members murdered by state agents in the 1990s. The sentence was issued by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran presided by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh.
“Iranian authors, artists and musicians are a part of Iran’s heritage. They create and expand the culture. Using kangaroo courts to put them behind bars for peacefully expressing themselves is a travesty of justice,” said CHRI executive director Hadi Ghaemi.
“This trial is not just the condemnation of three writers. This was not a trial against the IWA alone. It condemns all writers and others who want to enjoy the right to free expression,” said IWA’s statement on May 16.
The statement by the IWA, an independent group formed in Iran in 1968 to fight state censorship, continued: “What kind of ‘national security’ gets threatened with the publication of newsletters and protest statements? Whose security gets threatened when IWA members organize gatherings at the grave of poets and writers?
“No court with the least measure of care for justice, impartiality and human rights could accept such activities as evidence of a crime. In fact, it would see it as a frame job.
“The truth is that the court’s basis for the verdict against the three IWA members was nothing but their exercise of free expression and opposition to censorship.”
Abtin, Mahabadi and Bajan were arrested in late January 2019 and charged with the national security offenses. They were released on bail after approximately five days in detention. Their trial was held on April 27 and 28, 2019.
In an interview with CHRI after the trial, Abtin, a poet and filmmaker, forcefully denied the charges.
“One of the charges is for writing a book on the IWA’s 50th anniversary. It would have been an honor but unfortunately everybody knows I had no part in writing it… attributing the book to me is an absolute lie,” he said.
Abtin added that the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security” was for statements published by the IWA, articles in the organization’s internal newsletter, and holding memorial ceremonies for IWA members Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh (who were murdered in 1998 as part of a concerted state policy to eliminate political and cultural dissidents inside and outside of Iran).
“Nowhere in the world is it necessary to get a permit to gather around someone’s grave,” Abtin told CHRI. “But that’s what we’ve been charged with.”