Writer and Translator Arash Ganji Summoned to Serve Prison Sentence in Latest Assault on Free Expression in Iran
Suffering serious health conditions likely to be dangerously exacerbated in prison, Ganji faces an 11-year prison sentence
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(New York, NY) — The summoning of Iranian writer and translator Arash Ganji to serve his 11-year prison sentence—handed down in connection with his translation of a book about a Kurdish-led uprising in northern Syria, and upheld on appeal in February 2021—is the latest in the ongoing assault of free expression and human rights in Iran, PEN America said today.
“Arash Ganji’s summons is based on an unjust sentencing and is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas and information,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “From the start of this investigation, the Iranian government has been targeting Ganji with the baseless claim that his translation of a book poses a threat to national security. His wildly disproportionate sentence and imminent imprisonment are part of a broader pattern of legal harassment against writers in Iran, the latest blatant miscarriage of justice as authorities continue to lock up the literary community. Furthermore, Ganji suffers from serious health conditions likely to be dangerously exacerbated in prison. We firmly condemn the Iranian authorities’ decision to summon Ganji, and call for this farcical sentence criminalizing the translation of a book to be struck down.”
A board member and former secretary of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA), Ganji was first arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents in December 2019 in connection with his 2017 Farsi translation of A Small Key Can Open A Big Door: The Rojava Revolution, a collection of articles by different authors about Kurds in the Syrian civil war. After his arrest, he was detained at Tehran’s Evin Prison in solitary confinement, where he was subjected to interrogation and denied visitation from his family and legal representation. Upheld by an appeals court in February 2021, Ganji’s sentence consists of 11 years in prison: five years for “conspiracy to act against national security,” five years for “membership and cooperation with an anti-regime group,” and one year for “propaganda against the regime.” As is common practice in Iran, the court ruled that he must serve the maximum sentence of the three charges, amounting to five years in prison. According to a statement from the IWA and other sources, Ganji was summoned to serve his sentence on October 16, 2021. Ganji requires medical care due to a heart condition and deteriorating vision, which could be dangerously exacerbated by poor prison conditions and the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, as prior interrogations and confinement have already reportedly threatened his life.
The state of freedom of expression and respect for human rights in Iran has continued to deteriorate in recent years, with frequent suppression of writers through tactics of legal prosecution, harassment, and even targeted murders intended to silence critical perspectives. According to PEN America’s 2020 Freedom to Write Index, Iran jailed the fourth-highest number of writers and intellectuals globally. Ganji is one of a number of IWA board members jailed for championing free expression, fostering solidarity among writers, and opposing censorship, including celebrated writers and 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, who are currently serving a collective sentence of 15 years and six months in prison on spurious national security and propaganda charges and recently marked one year behind bars. Last month, Iranian authorities also summoned journalist and anti-death penalty activist Narges Mohammadi on new, baseless charges after releasing her from prison last year. PEN America also continues to call for the full exoneration and release of Nasrin Sotoudeh, currently serving a lengthy prison sentence on trumped-up charges in Iran.