Prominent Iranian Writers Sent to Prison for Peaceful Dissent
Six-year and Three-year Sentences Begin for Senior Iranian Writers Association Members
Lawyer: “These sentences are without legal and judicial merit. They are only political rulings”
Prominent members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) have begun serving prison sentences for the peaceful expression dissent and their opposition to censorship.
“On September 26, 2020, IWA board members Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Baktash Abtin, as well as former board member Keyvan Bajan, were transferred to Evin Prison [to begin serving their] sentences… The three IWA members must be freed unconditionally,” said a statement from the writers’ association on September 27.
It added: “The IWA believes the enforcement of the sentences is a criminal act and a violation of the principles of human rights…”
The three IWA members were sentenced in May 2019 to six years prison each on charges of “propaganda against the state” (one year) and “assembly and collusion against national security” (five years), for their peaceful actions including publishing documents about the IWA’s history and statements against censorship, and organizing memorial ceremonies for IWA members who’d been killed by state agents in the 1990s.
In December 2019, Branch 36 of the Appeals Court upheld the sentences against Abtin and Mahabadi and reduced Bajan’s sentence to three years and six months. Based on Article 134 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, which states that in cases where there are multiple charges, only the sentence for the most severe charge will be served, Abtin and Mahabadi would have to serve five years in prison.
Lawyer: “The appeal courts in Iran have turned into confirmation courts”
“Unfortunately the appeal courts in Iran have turned into confirmation courts,” human rights attorney Nasser Zarafshan told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) in an interview on October 6, 2020.
“The appeal courts’ authority has been watered down so much that their rulings are just a formality to confirm sentences,” he added.
Zarafshan said the sentences against the three IWA members lacked any legal foundation.
“These sentences are without legal and judicial merit. They are only political rulings,” he said.
The attorney, who himself served five years in prison for representing the families of dissidents murdered in the 1990s, said the persecution of the literary community shows the Iranian authorities’ level of intolerance toward opposing voices.
He noted that the IWA is a professional organization that has never demanded a share of power and therefore should not be treated as a political rival.
“Writers and thinkers have always written against censorship and advocated freedom of expression and those who hold power have always imposed censorship and confronted writers but at the present time the magnitude is unprecedented.”
Zarafshan continued: “The pressure on intellectuals and writers has increased so much that some have been questioned for being silent on certain issues.”