(New York, NY) — In response to the news that U.S.-based Iranian writer and activist Masih Alinejad’s brother has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran, PEN America’s Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs Karin Deutsch Karlekar released the following statement:

“We are horrified that Alireza Alinejad—who has been detained without charge since September 2019—has been sentenced to an eight-year prison term on trumped-up charges of insulting the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, propaganda against the regime, and actions against the country’s security. Alireza’s only ‘crime’ is to refuse to denounce his sister Masih, who is in the crosshairs of the Iranian regime due to her brave speech and activism in support of women’s rights. We call for his immediate release, and for the Iranian government to stop intimidating its overseas critics by targeting their family members inside the country.”

Masih Alinejad, Alireza’s sister, added, “My innocent brother is punished because the regime can’t punish the thousands of anonymous women who send me videos of their daily struggles. The Islamic Republic wants to silence me by keeping my brother hostage.” U.S.-based writer and PEN Member Masih Alinejad has faced a range of threats from the Iranian regime.

The Iranian government’s attempt to silence vocal writers and advocates for women’s rights is just one more example of an ongoing crackdown on writers, activists, journalists, and free expression in the country. PEN America’s inaugural 2019 Freedom to Write Index found that Iran was one of several countries where women detained in connection were  disproportionately likely to have been vocal on issues of women’s rights. In May 2019, Iranian writer, human rights lawyer, and 2011 PEN/Freedom to Write Award honoree Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to an egregious total of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes on spurious charges. Prominent journalist and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi has long suffered persecution by authorities, and was arrested in March 2015 after making a viral speech about conditions at Evin Prison.