(New York, NY) — In response to the recent jailing of Iranian poet Amin Moradi, arrested November 28 and detained at Evin prison on unspecified charges, PEN America condemns the escalation of harassment against members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) and calls for the immediate release of Moradi and other writers jailed for their peaceful words and speech. 

“The Iranian authorities’ detention of Amin Moradi—one of at least five members of the IWA jailed in 2020—demonstrates a pattern of baselessly portraying writers as anti-state actors in order to punish their free expression and quash their ability to write freely,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression at risk programs at PEN America. “Within the past year, the IWA’s secretary and translator Arash Ganji was detained and then put on trial, and IWA members Keyvan Bajan, Baktash Abtin, and Reza Khandan-Mahabadi were imprisoned after their legal appeals were denied. Their arrests are an assault on fundamental human rights, and the serious health risks they face behind bars underscore the urgency of defending free expression during the pandemic. We call for Iranian authorities’ legal harassment of the IWA to cease immediately, and for these unjustly incarcerated writers to be freed.”  

According to the IWA, authorities raided Moradi’s house during the arrest, seizing belongings including two laptops, a cell phone, a computer, and a number of books. He is currently being detained on unspecified charges. Moradi has a history of lung disease and spinal problems, leaving him extremely susceptible to infection, a concern that is only exacerbated by current conditions at Evin prison, which is notorious for its poor treatment of political prisoners, and where the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to rise in recent months, affecting a number of prisoners of conscience.

Also jailed this year: fellow IWA members and writers Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan-Mahabadi. The three were convicted on charges including “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” in 2019, and sentenced to six years in prison. The three writers appealed the charges, but their conviction was upheld in December 2019, though Bajan’s sentence was reduced to three years. They continued to resist imprisonment on health grounds, but were finally forced to comply in September 2020 and moved to Evin prison. IWA member and writer Arash Ganji, arrested in December 2019 on similar charges, was released on bail this year though the trial against him continues.

Conditions at Iranian prisons remain a source of concern as dozens of political prisoners, including PEN America 2011 Freedom to Write honoree Nasrin Sotoudeh, remain behind bars. Sotoudeh suffered near-fatal health complications during her 46-day hunger strike to protest conditions during the pandemic at Evin prison. She was recently re-imprisoned at Qarchak prison, where she had contracted COVID-19, against the advice of medical professionals after a temporary furlough given on health grounds.