(New York, NY) — In response to the news that human rights defender and writer Narges Mohammadi was arrested on November 16 while attending a peaceful memorial ceremony,  PEN America condemns the ongoing judicial harassment of Mohammadi on politically-motivated charges and calls on the Iranian authorities to release her immediately.

Narges Mohammadi has been a stalwart defender of free expression in Iran for more than a decade. This latest arrest and immediate detention in solitary confinement is a gross violation of her rights and a clear act of retaliation in response to her outspoken advocacy,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression at risk programs at PEN America. “The contrived, outlandish charges leading to Mohammadi’s current arrest must be dropped and authorities should release her from prison immediately. We call on Iranian authorities to halt their targeted use of the judicial system against free expression advocates and those who speak out against censorship.”

Mohammadi, an award-winning activist, writer, and independent journalist, is the deputy director of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC). She directed a documentary film released in September, White Torture: The Infamy of Solitary Confinement in Iran, that was adapted from her two-volume book series investigating the inhumane treatment of prisoners in Iran. Witnesses to her November 16 arrest say Mohammadi was beaten and insulted by security agents as she was taken to be detained at Evin Prison, where she is now being held in solitary confinement. Her arrest comes after her May 2021 conviction on charges of alleged propaganda, defamation, and “rebellion” crimes for making statements against the death penalty, speaking up about torture and abuse during her prior prison sentence, and organizing a sit-in in protest of the 2019 killings of protesters. A Tehran court summoned Mohammadi in September to serve out a sentence of 30 months in prison and 80 lashes; Mohammadi was tried in absentia and stated publicly that she would not comply with the court’s prison summons unless taken by force. A longtime target of persecution by Iranian authorities, Mohammadi was most recently released in October 2020, after enduring eight and a half years in prison. While imprisoned, Mohammadi suffered from a lack of adequate medical care despite her existing neurological condition which has caused repeated seizures, temporary partial paralysis, and a pulmonary embolism. 

Iran remains among the world’s most restrictive countries for freedom of expression, with a judicial system that enables the use of arbitrary arrests and lengthy sentences without due process. According to PEN America’s 2020 Freedom to Write Index, Iran jailed the fourth-highest number of writers and intellectuals globally, including writer and human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and writers Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, currently serving a collective sentence of 15 years in prison for their work and advocacy against the state’s encroachments on free expression. In October, PEN America honored Abtin, Bajan, and Khandan Mahabadi with the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, kicking off an advocacy campaign including a petition for their release signed by Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, PEN America President Ayad Akhtar, and over 1,400 supporters.