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[VIRTUAL] Examining Free Expression and Human Rights in Iran

A conversation among human rights experts on the country’s upcoming presidential elections, U.S.-Iran negotiations, and opportunities for impact by the Biden-Harris administration and the 117th Congress

Iran national flag waving over Tehran skyline

Photo by AP/Vahid Salemi

Eight years after President Hassan Rouhani came into office on a platform of “justice and dignity,” including more freedom of expression, the human rights situation in Iran remains dire. Despite promises of expanded freedoms, Rouhani’s presidency has been marked by intensified repression, including a brutal government crackdown on protests in November 2019. Government critics continue to face lengthy prison sentences, and even execution for peaceful dissent. Journalists, activists, protesters, and even rappers are targeted for running afoul of the regime’s draconian censors. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, Iran is the fourth highest jailer of writers and public intellectuals in the world, with 19 currently imprisoned.

Amid this backdrop and ongoing U.S.-Iran negotiations, Iranians are heading to the polls on June 18 in one of the most uncompetitive races in the country’s modern history. On May 25, Iran’s Guardian Council disqualified the majority of the 590 registered candidates, including prominent moderate and reformist candidates, and all 40 women who registered. The arbitrary disqualifications, along with other political restrictions, prevent Iranians from having a voice in how they are governed, and have all but cleared the way for the victory of Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative head of Iran’s judiciary.

Join PEN America and the Center for Human Rights in Iran for a discussion on human rights in Iran and how U.S. policymakers should respond.


Panel 1: Setting the Scene: Contextualizing Human Rights Abuse in Iran (2–3pm ET)


Asieh Amini headshotAsieh Amini is a writer, poet, and member of PEN Norway’s Board of Directors. Before moving to Norway in 2009, Amini worked as a journalist and women’s rights activist in Iran, where she founded the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign.

Masih Alinjead headshotMasih Alinejad is an award-winning Iranian journalist, author, television broadcaster, and human rights campaigner who founded the My Stealthy Freedom campaign against Iran’s compulsory hijab laws. Alinejad was forced to leave Iran in 2009 after reporting on corruption and mismanagement in the Islamic Republic.

Roya Boroumand headshotRoya Boroumand is the cofounder and executive director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran. She has a Ph.D. in the history of international relations and was the recipient of the Lech Walesa Prize in 2009, shared with her sister, Ladan Boroumand.


Suzanne Nossel headshotSuzanne Nossel has been the CEO of PEN America since 2013. Before that, she served as executive director of Amnesty International USA, and deputy assistant secretary of state for International Organization Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Panel 2: State of Play: How International Policies Can Improve Human Rights in Iran (3–4pm ET)


Hadi Ghaemi headshotHadi Ghaemi is an internationally recognized expert on Iran and human rights. Ghaemi is the founder and executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, which has become a leading organization documenting human rights violations in Iran and building international coalitions to support human rights.

Shahin Milan headshotShahin Milani is the executive director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, where he has authored in-depth reports on human rights violations in Iran. He obtained his J.D. from Howard University School of Law and his LL.M. from Vermont Law School.

Gissou Nia headshotGissou Nia is a senior fellow and head of the Strategic Litigation Project at the Atlantic Council, with a focus on Iran and the MENA region. She is currently leading efforts to strengthen laws around the world to seek accountability for human rights violations and atrocity crimes, and pursuing litigation through available jurisdictional pathways to hold perpetrators responsible.


Dokhi Fassihian headshotDokhi Fassihian is the interim Washington director at PEN America, where she advocates for attention to domestic and international free expression priorities by decision-makers in Washington, D.C. She is the former director of the MENA program at Freedom House and former executive director of Reporters Without Borders USA.

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