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Iran: Writers Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan-Mahabadi and Keyvan Bazhan Imprisoned

Rapid Action Network 30 October 2020 Iran:  RAN 02/2020 update 2 Writers Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan-Mahabadi and Keyvan Bazhan Imprisoned On 26 September 2020, three Iranian writers, Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bazhan entered Evin prison to serve sentences related to their critical writings. PEN International believes that the charges against all three writers are in violation of their right to freedom of expression, and is calling upon the Iranian authorities for their release.  In May 2020, on learning that the three writers had been sentenced, Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said: 'Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bahzan should never have been charged, certainly not convicted, and should by no means be sent to jail particularly at the present time, given the outbreak of COVID-19 in Iran. They are writers facing prosecution and persecution simply because they have written critically and consistently about successive Iranian governments. Rather preposterously, one of the charges they have faced is visiting the graves of dissident writers. At the time of the pandemic which has had serious impact in Iran, its government’s priority should be protecting public health, and not intimidating or jailing writers.' TAKE ACTION: Please send appeals

  • Urging the Iranian authorities to rescind the charges against writers Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bazhan which are in direct contravention of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a state party;

  • Therefore calling for their immediate and unconditional release;

  • Further calling on the Iranian authorities to end the abuse of the legal system to persecute writers, and to immediately release all those held in prison for having exercised their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

Send appeals to: Head of the Judiciary Mr Ebrahim Raisi Address: c/o Permanent Mission of Iran to the UN, Chemin du Petit-Saconnex 28, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland Email: Twitter: @Iran_UN (English) President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani Address: The Presidency, Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran Email: Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and @Rouhani_ir (Persian) Send copies to the Embassy of Iran in your country: Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive. PEN members are also encouraged to share information about Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bazhan and their Centres’ campaigning activities via social media. Publicity PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the cases of Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bazhan and freedom of expression in Iran;

  • Share information about Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bazhan and your campaigning activities via social media;

Please keep PEN International informed of your activities. Background Khandan-Mahabadi, Abtin and Bazhan are members of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA), and each has published numerous books of Iranian history, sociology and literary criticism. They were convicted on counts of spreading propaganda against the system, illegal assembly and collusion against national security on 15 May 2019. These relate to their joint authorship of a book about the history of the IWA which has for decades been critical of successive Iranian governments. They were also accused of visiting the graves of dissident poets and writers. Khandan-Mahabadi and Abtin were each sentenced to a total of six years imprisonment, while Bazhan was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. The writers had been consistently denied access to legal representation since their first hearing on 22 January 2019, in response to which all three refused to defend themselves against the charges. They were subsequently released on bail. Then, in March 2020 they were notified that they should report to prison. However, owing to the serious danger of contracting COVID-19, they did not do so. They remained free until their imprisonment in Evin Prison in Tehran on 26 September 2020. In June 2020, Baktash Abtin and Reza Khandan-Mahabani gave an interview to PEN Sydney’s president, Mark Isaacs, where they spoke of the long history of censorship of writers, their own personal experience of being censored and the story around their most recent arrest and trial. In his closing comments, Baktash Abtin said “… freedom has never been gifted to anyone on a gold plate. We ought to pay a heavy price for it. In countries like ours, where a dictatorship is ruling, while we are fighting for freedom of expression and against censorship, to obtain our natural rights seems more difficult. In a country like Iran, death is very cheap for intellectuals, freedom loving people and those who fight for freedom of expression. […] we are not worried to face trials, to go to prison and endure sufferings, because we have made up our minds. […] To read more visit the PEN website here. Click here for Mahabadi's books, here for Abtin’s books and here for Bazhan’s books. PEN International is alarmed about the large number of writers and activists in Iran who have been detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. PEN International’s 2019 Case List includes a number of writers in prison and on trial in Iran. This is in violation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s obligations under international human rights law, mainly through restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. PEN International’s concerns for these imprisoned writers is made more acute in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and reports of violence in prisons. For more information, please contact  Sara Whyatt, MENA Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email:

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