(New York, N..Y.) –In response to the news that 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honoree Keyvan Bajan was released from Evin Prison on parole on March 9, after serving almost half of his three-year sentence, PEN America’s CEO Suzanne Nossel released the following statement:

“We celebrate the long-overdue release of Keyvan Bajan and are delighted he will be able to reunite with his family. Bajan, like all of his colleagues at the Iranian Writers Association (IWA), should have never been jailed. The preventable death of Bajan’s colleague the writer and filmmaker Baktash Abtin in January made unmistakable the cruel and irreversible cost of their unjust imprisonment.  Bajan and his colleagues’ only crime was an insistence on exercising their freedom to write, commemorating their literary colleagues, and documenting the IWA’s history. We call for Bajan and his surviving colleague Reza Khandan Mahabadi’s full exoneration and unconditional release so that they may return to their writing and be free to work on behalf of Iran’s literary community. Iran’s prisons are a life-threatening cage for dozens of political prisoners, and we reiterate our urgent call for those who are sick or at grave risk to be released immediately on humanitarian grounds.”

Despite its rich cultural and literary traditions, Iran is among the world’s most restrictive countries for freedom of expression. In 2020, PEN America found that Iran imprisoned the fourth-highest number of writers and public intellectuals in the world. In September 2021, a group of internationally celebrated writers, including Nobel, Pulitzer prize, and Tony award winners and best-selling authors called on Iran to release the jailed IWA writers and board members.

In October, PEN America honored Bajan and his two colleagues sentenced in the same case—late poet-filmmaker Baktash Abtin and author-literary critic Reza Khandan Mahabadi—with the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. A month later, IWA Secretary and writer-translator Arash Ganji was summoned to the same prison to begin serving an 11-year sentence. Abtin tragically died in early January, following weeks of illness compounded by egregious medical neglect at the hands of Iranian authorities, who delayed his transfer to a hospital to receive essential treatment for COVID-19 infection and other serious health issues. As he has served the minimum time required of his sentence and had no previous convictions,

Bajan will be able to stay freed on parole. His colleague, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, is currently freed on a temporary medical furlough as he continues to recover from a COVID infection contracted while in prison.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Suzanne Trimel, communications and media consultant, [email protected]