Three Writers Tried in Iran on “National Security” Charges
The trial of three board members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) was held at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on April 27 and 28, 2019.
Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bajan were charged with “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” for peacefully opposing state censorship policies.
A group of IWA members stood outside the courthouse in a peaceful show of solidarity, Abtin told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on April 29.
“I was sentenced to a year in prison for these charges but they were reduced to a fine on appeal,” he said. “Now they have charged me with the same things for the same reasons and put me on trial again.
Abtin, a poet and filmmaker, said he was charged for authoring a book he didn’t write.
He continued: “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 that I had no part in writing it. At the time, I lived on Kish Island and I still live there and I wasn’t around to help with the book. Attributing the book to me is an absolute lie.”
Limited editions of the four-volume history of the IWA never became public because they were stolen from the print shop before distribution, according to Abtin.
Abtin, Mahabadi and Bajan were arrested in late January 2019 for allegedly printing declarations and internal publications opposing the censorship of art and literature in Iran. They were released on bail a few days later.
Abtin told CHRI 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 murdered IWA members Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh.
“Nowhere in the world is it necessary to get a permit to gather around someone’s grave,” he said. “But that’s what we’ve been charged with.”
On April 28, Abtin posted a video on Instagram vowing not to surrender to injustice.
“The security forces are putting pressure on me and my IWA friends but I want to assure you that they will never weaken our firm determination… to defend freedom of speech and thought,” he said.
In June 2018, Abtin 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.