(NEW YORK) – PEN America strongly denounces Iran’s recent ban on performing for actresses who have appeared in public without a head cover. Led by Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and Iran’s Cinema Organization, the ban is a “stifling attack on freedom of expression and artistic freedom.” 

“A country’s well-being depends on its people’s ability to think and feel for themselves. This is especially vital for artists and writers who help citizens imagine the future they want, one built on a foundation of freedom of expression, full cultural expression, and human rights,” said Julie Trébault, director of Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. 

“Persecuting actors and artists for exercising their free expression is unacceptable. The Iranian government’s unjust ban on actors who dare to criticize the regime or appear in public without a headscarf is a clear and deliberate assault on free expression and artistic freedom. This calculated restriction deprives actors and artists of their livelihood and stifles their cultural rights. We stand in unwavering solidarity with Iran’s creative community and demand the immediate lifting of this oppressive ban.”

The ban prevents actors from undertaking any new projects, though existing and previous cinematographic projects will continue to be released not to hinder investors’ and producers’ interests. Officials from Iran’s Cinema Organization have reportedly corresponded with film producers, threatening their projects should they choose to work with actors who have been publicly outspoken on the issues of the mandatory hijab and the ongoing protests.

In the past few months, Iranian authorities have imposed bans and restrictions on several stakeholders in the film industry. In August, Iranian filmmaker Saeed Roustayi was sentenced to six months in prison for screening his award-winning film Leila’s Brothers at the Cannes Film Festival and barred from all cinematic activities for five years with the requirement of undertaking a filmmaking course to “preserve national and moral interests.” In July, similar restrictions and acting bans were imposed on the actors Leila Bolukat and Afsaneh Bayegan

In PEN America’s latest Freedom to Write Index—an annual count of writers in prison worldwide— Iran is the largest jailer of women writers globally. The government of Iran has intensified its violent crackdown on dissidents, many of them artists, since the September protests ignited by the death in custody of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini for “incorrectly” wearing a headscarf. 

PEN America and Artists at Risk Connection stand in solidarity with the many artists and writers such as political rapper Toomaj Salehi, actress Taraneh Alidoosti, Nobel Peace Prize winner and 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honoree Narges Mohammadi, and all the other prisoners of conscience who endure persecution and detention at the hands of the Iranian authorities. More about PEN America’s work on Iran can be found here


About the Artists at Risk Connection

The Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) is a project of PEN America dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the networks and organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.

About PEN America

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. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Dietlind Lerner, DLerner@PEN.org, 310 699 8775