(NEW YORK) – PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) condemns the execution of Iranian activist Mohsen Shekari by the Islamic Republic of Iran on December 8, 2022 after the Islamic Revolution Court in Tehran reportedly found him guilty of moharebeh or “waging war against God.” PEN America demands the immediate release of all Iranian artists and activists, and calls on the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to investigate the deliberate targeting of artists and activists for exercising their freedom of expression.

Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), said: “We are horrified by the shocking execution of Mohsen Shekari and the terrifying precedent this sets for artists and protestors currently held in Iranian prisons. We send our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. This execution, after a sham trial that offered him no meaningful opportunity for defense or appeal, is a brutal violation of human rights. The Iranian government clearly fears the power of artists during these protests, but artistic expression and peaceful protests are not crimes.  Artists and writers who are currently imprisoned and awaiting sentences have every right to express themselves freely and must never be punished for their participation in the protests. We welcome the condemnation of this execution by United Nations experts, including a group of Special Rapporteurs, and call on the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to investigate this deliberate silencing of free speech and expression.” 

The execution of Mohsen Shekari marks the first state backed execution of a protester convicted over the widespread national protests  against the Iranian government after  the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini,  who was detained by morality police on September 13, 2022 for allegedly not wearing her hijab (headscarf) “properly”. Twenty-three  year old Shekari was arrested and detained on September 25, 2022 for blocking Sattar Khan Street in Tehran and allegedly injuring a Basij Resistance Force member with a machete. Shekari’s conviction and sentence was delivered in a trial that was not consistent with international standards on due process and was  similar to  trials against other protesters that lack both fair trial guarantees or opportunities for appeal. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, in his speech following the execution of Shekari, has announced that “the trial and punishment of the protesters” will continue.

Earlier this week, PEN America and ARC condemned the arrest and detention of Iranian rap artist Toomaj Salehi, on charges related to  his songs and music in support of the protests. Salehi was charged with having committed the capital offense of “corruption on Earth,” spreading propaganda, co-operating with a hostile government, and incitement to violence.  ARC and PEN America are deeply concerned that Salehi is also at risk of imminent  execution.

As the global community celebrates the International Day for Human Rights today, ARC stands in solidarity with the people of Iran. So far, nearly 481 civilians have been killed during Iran’s protests, with approximately 8% of those identified as women, and 14% as children. Artists continue to share their artwork in support of the imprisoned artists and in honor of Shekari.

In PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index—an annual count of imprisoned writers worldwide—Iran is one of the top five global jailers of writers, with at least 21 jailed during 2021 for their free expression. More about PEN America’s work on Iran can be found here.

About the Artists at Risk Connection

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