Thursday , 19 September 2019

Rights Groups: 3 Iranian Writers Free, Plan to Appeal Sentences

VOA – An international writers association says three Iranian authors apparently sentenced to long prison terms this week in Iran remain free, pending possible appeals in their trial for alleged security offenses.

In a statement to VOA Persian on Friday, London-based PEN International said it understands that writers Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan-Mahabadi have not yet been arrested. PEN International said it has not had direct contact with them but has spoken to Arash Ganji, secretary of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA), of which the three men are members.

Ganji, responding later to a question from VOA Persian by email, said the three writers were at their homes and planned to appeal their prison sentences to a higher court within the 20 days allowed to them by law.

Statements of support

In a Thursday statement posted on its website, which is run from exile, IWA said a Tehran court notified the writers’ lawyers the previous day that it has imposed six-year prison terms on Abtin, Bajan and Khandan-Mahabadi. IWA said each writer was sentenced to five years for “colluding against national security” and one year for “spreading propaganda” against the government.

IWA, an Iranian writers’ union that has campaigned for freedom of expression and against censorship since its founding in 1968, condemned the verdicts and demanded their immediate cancellation. It dismissed the evidence of alleged security offenses by the writers as “weak” and “irrelevant,” saying it included documentation of their IWA activities such as publishing an IWA journal, gathering materials for a book about IWA’s 50th anniversary and visiting the graves of slain Iranian writers to honor their memories. IWA operates without approval from Iran’s Islamist rulers.

There has been no comment on the prison sentences against the three writers in Iranian state media.

In a statement published earlier this month, PEN International’s communications director Rebecca Sharkey said: “We stand in solidarity with our Iranian colleagues who are targeted due to their writing and peaceful activism. We call on the Iranian authorities to drop all charges against them and to respect their right to freedom of expression.”

PEN International said Abtin, Bajan and Khandan-Mahabadi were briefed about the charges in a January court hearing after which they were detained for several days before being released on bail. It said their last hearings at the court were April 27 and 28.

Not backing down

The three writers do not appear to have made any public statements in recent days. In his Friday email, IWA secretary Ganji said they were determined to continue their struggle for the freedom of expression and for the ideals of the organization. Ganji said he has been in direct contact with the men from his base in Tehran and has had weekly meetings with their lawyers.

“It was sad receiving these verdicts, but IWA never has backed down, and this suppression [spurs us] to continue our path toward our goals,” Ganji said.

Last September, PEN International’s Assembly of Delegates passed a resolution on Iran, noting with concern that it “continues to violate its obligations under international human rights law, mainly through restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”