(NEW YORK) – PEN America today condemned the arrest of Iranian musician Mehdi Yarrahi following the release on Friday of his song “Your Head Scarf” which protests the long-standing mandatory hijab rule imposed in the country. PEN America calls for Yarrahi’s immediate release and for all charges to be dropped against him. 

News of Yarrahi’s arrest coincided with the Iranian government’s announcement that “cultural activists” acting “against national interests,” – including female artists and actors who remove their hijab – will not be permitted to work in the country. 

“These bans carried out against ‘cultural activists’ serve as a grim reminder of the Iranian government’s continued campaign to suppress any artistic expression that dares to challenge the status quo. The legal action taken against Mehdi Yarrahi is indicative of the Iranian regime’s systematic, brutal repression of democratic free expression. We stand in solidarity with Iran’s artists and cultural workers defending fundamental rights and freedoms, and demand that all charges against Yarrahi be dropped,” said Julie Trebault, director of Artists at Risk Connection.

Yarrahi’s arrest is the latest in a series of crackdowns by the Iranian government in the run up to the first anniversary of the custodial death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini for “incorrectly” wearing a headscarf, which led to widespread protests in Iran and around the world. Earlier this month, 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. In July, Iranian actresses Leila Bolukat and Afsaneh Bayegan were barred from acting for not wearing the mandatory hijab in public. 

Since the September 2022 protests, numerous artists and writers have been persecuted for their participation in the protests, including political rapper Toomaj Salehi and actress Taraneh Alidoosti. PEN America’s latest Freedom to Write Index—an annual count of writers in prison worldwide— found that Iran is the largest jailer of women writers globally. 

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: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057