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Violent Arrests of Leaders of Iranian Writers' Association are Designed to Intimidate and Silence

Image - Aida Amidi a member of the IWA board

PEN Sydney  and PEN America today condemned the recent arrests of three Iranian writers—Roozbeh Sohani, Aida Amidi, and Alireza Adineh—and raised alarm over the continued targeting of writers for their free expression. The three are members of the Iran-based Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA), a decades-old writers’ group that has been banned but steadfastly stands against state censorship

“The violent and targeted arrests of the IWA’s board members are designed to intimidate and silence one of the leading independent civil society voices inside Iran that steadfastly speaks out in support of the essential right of all individuals to free expression,” said Karin Karlekar, PEN America’s director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “Given the Iranian government’s surge of baseless arrests and horrific record of mistreating political prisoners, we are raising an urgent alarm regarding their safety, and call for their immediate release.”

Roozbeh Sohani and Aida Amidi were arrested on December 5. Iranian authorities broke into Sohani’s home and arrested him, then took him to an unknown location. Two hours later, authorities raided Amidi’s apartment and detained her in the same manner. Alireza Adineh was arrested on November 30 at his home and taken to an unknown location. The previous month, on September 23, he had been summoned by the Ministry of Information for interrogation. Sohani and Amidi are both poets and board members of the IWA, and Adineh is a poet and member of the organization.

“For decades, the IWA has taken a consistent and principled stand against censorship, and has been the voice of writers and the creative community inside Iran, who have taken a lead role in opposing state repression” said Mansour Razaghi of PEN Sydney. ”We stand in solidarity with these brave writers and all those behind bars and facing harsh and wholly disproportionate punishments as a result of their words and expression, and remind the Iranian authorities that the world is watching and will hold them to account for these violations of basic human rights.”

Sohani and Amidi’s arrests occurred only one day after the Iranian Writers’ Association commemorated the Day Against Censorship on December 4, an observance that commemorates the abduction and murder in 1998 of two IWA members, Mohammed Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh. Their deaths were part of the Chain of Murders in Iran by which tens of writers and intellectuals were abducted and killed in ‘80 and ‘90s. At present, the recent arrests of Sohani, Amidi, and Adineh expand the long list of writers who have been targeted for their free expression since the protests against the wrongful death of (Jhina) Mahsa Amini in mid-September.

The arrests of Sohani, Amidi, and Adineh are also part of an enduring government campaign of repression against the IWA, which has been banned since the 1980s. Since then, many IWA members have been jailed, imprisoned, and killed for their support of free expression and opposition to state censorship. In October 2021, PEN America honored three writers and IWA board members—Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi—with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recognizing a writer jailed for their commitment to freedom of expression. On January 8, 2022, Baktash Abtin died in a Tehran hospital after battling COVID-19, which he contracted during his sentence at Evin prison; prison authorities delayed giving Abtin medical care as his condition rapidly deteriorated. In March 2022, Keyvan Bajan was released on parole. Reza Khandan Mahabadi, though briefly released on medical furlough after contracting COVID-19 in Evin prison, remains in prison.

Iran is among the top five jailers of writers globally according to PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index, which provides an annual count of imprisoned writers worldwide. Since the custodial death of Mahsa Amini in mid-September, the government of Iran has intensified its violent crackdown on the protests that erupted in the wake of her murder, which has led to the reported arrests of approximately 18,000 people and the deaths of over 450 people. Several writers and high-profile critics have faced reported abuse while in custody and charges that carry the death penalty. Blogger Hossein Ronaghi was recently released on bail after over 60 days on hunger strike and sustaining injuries from torture. Jailed rappers Toomaj Salehi and Saman Yasin face execution if found guilty of the charges against them; Salehi has reportedly also been subject to custodial abuse and was filmed making a forced confession of his ‘crimes’. More on PEN America’s work on Iran can be found here.

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