(NEW YORK) — PEN America and PEN Sydney today joined more than 170 writers and scholars worldwide–including Azar Nafisi, Shahriar Madanipour, Hisham Matar, Orhan Pamuk, Moniroo Ravanipour, Peter Sloterdjik, Bela Tarr, and Jia Zhangke–calling for the release of Ali Asadollahi, a noted poet and member of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA), as well as other unjustly detained writers in Iran.

The statement, initiated by Fatemeh Shams, a PEN-affiliated poet and assistant professor of Persian literature at the University of Pennsylvania and Hamid Amouzadeh Khalili, assistant professor of architectural and interior design at the University of Edinburgh, states: “The sole crime of these writers is their literary output and activities. We call on Iranian authorities to immediately reverse these absurd charges against Iranian writers and order their release.”

Ali Asadollahi was arrested on Nov. 21 during the current uprising, and had been held in solitary confinement–including being denied access to his family or to legal counsel–for more than 50 days without any charges and under harsh conditions. He was finally allowed a short visit with his family only this week. An internationally acclaimed poet who has published six outstanding collections, Asadollahi was recently transferred to Fashafouyeh Prison.

“Since the outpouring of sustained nationwide protests against the government in September, Iran’s writers and broader creative community have been caught in the crosshairs, targeted by authorities with preventative detention, trumped-up legal charges and sentences, and, in some cases, harsh abuse and torture while behind bars,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs.

Karlekar added: “Already under severe pressure to self-censor and restrict their expression, dozens of them are now fighting for their freedom to live and write. We join these voices from around the world to call on the Iranian government to release unjustly detained writers, to allow them to work and create freely, and to cease persecuting the organizations that represent them, such as the Iranian Writers Association. The attack on IWA members is an attack on this organization as a whole, and is clearly due to their steadfast role in advocating for freedom of expression and fighting against censorship.”

Professor Shams said: “Today, Iranian writers and journalists are facing one of the most brutal crackdowns in the history of the Islamic Republic. The alarmingly high number of imprisoned writers, brutal interrogations, and unlawful treatment while in detention are all examples of grave violations of free speech and of Iran’s own constitution.”

PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index, released in April 2022, shows that Iran jailed the fourth highest number of writers and public intellectuals in the world. In 2022, arrests of writers and other artists have spiked dramatically. A number of other members of the IWA have also been detained in 2022, including labor activists, writers, and translators Keyvan Mohtadi and Anisha Asadollahi, detained in May (Asadollahi, Ali Asadollahi’s sister, was released on bail in August while Mohtadi was recently sentenced to a six-year prison term); Atefeh Chaharmahalian, detained on October 3 and released on December 13; and poets Alireza Adineh, Aida Amidi, and Roozbeh Sohani, arrested in early December and released on bail in early January.

 These arrests are part of an enduring government campaign of repression against the IWA, which has been banned since the 1980s. Since then, many IWA members have been jailed, imprisoned, and killed for their support of free expression and opposition to state censorship. In October 2021, PEN America honored three writers and IWA board members—Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi—with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recognizing a writer jailed for their commitment to and practice of freedom of expression. Less than a week ago, Abtin’s family and colleagues marked the first anniversary of his death following medical neglect while in state custody.

 In early 2022, PEN America submitted a petition on these honorees’ behalf, along with their jailed colleague Arash Ganji, to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which ruled in December that their detention was unjust and violated their human rights and international law.

More about PEN America’s advocacy work on Iran can be found here.

Read the full statement and signatories.