(NEW YORK) – PEN America strongly denounces the sentencing of Sepideh Rashnu, a young Iranian writer, poet, and vocal critic of the country’s mandatory hijab law. Rashnu was arrested in July 2022 after a video showing her riding a bus bareheaded and arguing with a woman who was trying to force her to wear a hijab went viral. Rashnu announced yesterday that she will be serving a total sentence of three years and 11 months in Evin prison.

“The perseverance of Iranian women in championing their free expression and other human rights, despite the government’s relentless, severe, and unjust campaign of suppression and punishment, is truly remarkable. The health and vitality of a nation depend on people’s ability to voice their thoughts without fear of retaliation. Writers and artists such as Rashnu play a pivotal role, not only by calling out injustices and amplifying the public’s desire for change but also by inspiring everyone to dream of a brighter future grounded in human rights and where women can freely make choices about what they wear,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center director at PEN America.

Shortly after her arrest in 2022, concerns were expressed that Rashnu had been coerced into a “confession” after she appeared on state television with bruises on her face and was then reportedly immediately rushed to the hospital after the broadcast. 

In June 2023, Rashnu was charged with offenses relating to “propaganda” and “encouraging promiscuity” before being released on bail. Four months later, she was fined and handed a six-month prison sentence for “propaganda” and “encouraging corruption.” Finally, in December 2023, Rashnu was sentenced to an additional four months in prison for “publishing obscene images online.”

Opposition to the forced hijab has emerged as a powerful symbol of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protest movement, sparked by the state-sanctioned death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini in September 2022, 2 months after Rashnu’s arrest.

According to PEN America’s most recent Freedom To Write Index, at least 57 Iranian writers were arrested for their work in 2022, making Iran the second-highest jailer of writers in the world after China. It is also the world’s top jailer of female writers. On December 10, 2023, imprisoned Iranian writer and human rights activist and 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom To Write awardee Narges Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia. PEN America continues to demand her immediate release, as well as the release of all prisoners of conscience. 

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: Dietlind Lerner, [email protected] tel. +1 310 699 8775