NEW YORK — The health of filmmaker Hossein Rajabian and his brother Mehdi—who are serving a three-year prison sentence for “spreading propaganda against the system” in Iran—is steadily deteriorating and has been described as “critical” as they continue a hunger strike begun on September 8, 2016. The Rajabian brothers began their hunger strike to protest conditions at Evin prison following a discussion with prison officials about the need for a furlough to receive medical care. The brothers were separated shortly after the request was denied and have been held in different wards; they also reportedly have been denied medical care. 

The brothers were first arrested on October 5, 2013 by the Revolutionary Guard’s Intelligence Organization. In a three-minute trial in May 2015, Mehdi and Hossein, together with their friend Yousef Emadi, were found guilty of “insulting Islamic sanctities,” disseminating anti-government propaganda, and “illegal audio-visual activities” for distributing music without a permit. All three men were managing partners in Barg Music, a popular online music-sharing platform established in 2009. Hossein Rajabian’s feature film The Upside-Down Triangle, which deals with issues of women’s right to divorce in Iran, was also subject to criticism during the sentencing.

“The treatment of these brothers is unconscionable,” said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “President Hassan Rouhani entered office in 2013 promising a more open society in Iran. The sentencing and imprisonment of the Rajabian brothers, and of numerous other artists, is a clear indication that creative expression is being increasingly criminalized in Iran. We urge authorities to ensure their access to urgent medical care, to reconsider their harsh sentences for distributing music, and to cease prosecuting all artists for their work.”

Both Rajabian brothers have reported being subject to gross mistreatment at the hands of prison officials during their time at Evin. Mehdi Rajabian, who was diagnosed with suspected multiple sclerosis (MS) before his imprisonment, has suffered from debilitating seizures ever since the brothers were beaten following their arrest in 2013. Until recently, he was denied treatment for his MS symptoms. Hossein Rajabian was taken, bound and shackled, to a hospital outside of the prison just hours after going on hunger strike. Having suffered from kidney problems prior to his imprisonment, he was treated for severe fever-like symptoms but was returned to Evin before adequate medical care was given.


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.



Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications:, +1 (646) 779.4830