Dozens of writers call for release of jailed Iranian free speech campaigners

Film-makers, novelists and journalists make appeal to President Ebrahim Raisi

Some of the world’s most successful authors have called for the release of three Iranian writers held in Tehran’s Evin jail for their defence of free expression, according to a campaign group.

Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi were each sentenced to six years in prison in May 2019 on spurious national security and propaganda charges, PEN America says. Mr Bajan’s sentence was reduced on appeal.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Margaret Atwood attends the 2018 Hammer Museum Gala In The Garden held on October 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

Mr Abtin and Mr Khandan Mahabadi have since contracted Covid-19 while behind bars and all three, who were sent to prison last year, have been denied hospital visits for medical treatment.

The signatories of the letter to President Ebrahim Raisi include literary heavyweights such as Margaret Atwood, Orhan Pamuk and J.M. Coetzee.

“We call upon you, President Raisi, to release Abtin, Bajan, and Khandan Mahabadi; acquit them of all charges in the legal case wrongfully brought against them; and cease official retribution against all writers exercising their right to express themselves freely,” the letter said.

The three men served on the board of the Iranian Writers Association, a group in Iran that has been banned since the 1980s.

They were convicted in part because of their joint authorship of a book about the history of the group, which has been critical of successive Iranian governments for decades, according to rights organisations.

The three men were also punished for organising memorial ceremonies for members who had been killed by the state in the 1990s.

“It is high time the Iranian state respects the free expression rights of Iranian writers, poets and thinkers and recognises the rich traditions of Iran's diverse literary community,” the letter said.

Updated: September 29th 2021, 2:08 PM