(New York, NY) — In response to the news that writer, translator, and secretary of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA) Arash Ganji has been unjustly sentenced to an 11-year prison term in connection with his translation of a book about a Kurdish-led uprising in northern Syria—information shared with PEN America by a contact close to Ganji—PEN America released the following statement:

“We condemn the court’s verdict against Arash Ganji in the strongest terms: to be imprisoned for 11 years for the ‘crime’ of translating a book is absurd and an unquestionable violation of the fundamental human right to free expression,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression at risk programs at PEN America. “The Iranian state’s tactic of harshly punishing writers and advocates for their peaceful expression of views—and equating critical viewpoints with national security crimes—has escalated rapidly, and we call for an immediate end to this pattern of abuse and disregard for the rule of law, and for unjustly incarcerated prisoners, including Arash, to be freed immediately and unconditionally.”

Ganji was arrested in December 2019, but was released on bail while his trial continued throughout the past year. At least four additional members of the IWA have been jailed in 2020: Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, who were convicted of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” in 2019 and began their sentences in September 2020, as well as the poet Amin Moradi, arrested on November 28 and currently detained at Evin prison on unspecified charges. 

Conditions at Iranian prisons remain a source of concern as dozens of political prisoners, including PEN America 2011 Freedom to Write honoree Nasrin Sotoudeh, remain behind bars and face exposure to COVID. Sotoudeh suffered near-fatal health complications during her 46-day hunger strike to protest conditions during the pandemic at Evin prison. In early December, she was re-imprisoned at Qarchak prison, where she had contracted COVID-19, against the advice of medical professionals after a temporary furlough given on health grounds.