(NEW YORK) PEN America expresses its great concern about the health and safety of human rights lawyer, writer, and 2011 PEN/Freedom To Write Award honoree Nasrin Sotoudeh, who sustained severe injuries during her re-arrest at Armita Geravand’s funeral in Tehran on October 29. Alarming information has surfaced about her current condition, and we call upon the Iranian government to transfer Sotoudeh to a hospital without delay to ensure her proper medical care.

“PEN America is extremely concerned about Nasrin’s well-being. Her arrest was already an outrage, but there is no world in which violence against a writer and human rights advocate can be justified,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “For decades, Sotoudeh has defended human rights through her legal work and writing, with a special focus on the rights of children and women. In turn, instead of listening to the concerns of the people, as expressed by Nasrin, the Iranian government has decided instead to target her for retaliation. Nasrin’s unwavering commitment to her work in the face of brutal state repression is truly heroic. And now, less than a week after she received the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage Award, she has again shown incredible bravery by attending a funeral without the mandatory hijab. Nasrin’s rearrest was a horrific development that is indicative of the escalating climate of mass repression and state violence in Iran. With increased urgency, we call again for her immediate and unconditional release so that she can receive specialized medical attention.”

As was the case with several other women in attendance at slain teenager Armita Geravand’s funeral, Sotoudeh was not wearing the government-mandated head covering. Communicating with PEN America, Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, shared alarming new details about the degree of violence involved in the arrest and subsequent injuries where a group of some 50 police and security personnel charged at the peaceful group, beating some and dragging others across gravestones as they were arrested. Sotoudeh’s glasses broke as a result of the violence.

Because she refused to wear the hijab (which is mandatory around contact with unrelated males in Iran), Sotoudeh was kept in a police car for several hours and was not offered the opportunity to meet with the investigator, a circumvention of the legal process. Meanwhile, family members and attorneys were not permitted to meet with the judge in the courthouse. Sotoudeh, who undertook a brief hunger strike and began refusing medication for a heart condition, was then transferred along with other detainees to Qarchak Prison. Bail has been issued by the prison authorities; however, the prosecutor has delayed approving this order. 

Once she was finally allowed to speak with her husband, Sotoudeh reported being covered in bruises, that the back of her head remains swollen, and that she is experiencing a prolonged headache. Sotoudeh suffers from a pre-existing heart condition, the result of previous prison hunger strikes, and must be transferred immediately from Qarchak, where health services are rudimentary, unsanitary, and there is no specialist doctor, to a specialized care facility. 

Sotoudeh has faced a series of arrests and lengthy imprisonments for her human rights work over several decades. Despite facing persistent persecution from the state, Sotoudeh has continued her activism and has refused to renounce her principles. She is one among countless other writers and activists who have experienced brutal repression from the Iranian government for speaking out against the regime’s injustices. Opposition to the forced hijab has emerged as a powerful symbol of the protest movement in Iran. To mark the recent anniversary of the movement, female prisoners in Iran used their rejection of hijab as a means of protesting the current regime. Reports emerged this week that jailed 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honoree and Nobel Laureate Narges Mohammadi was being denied access to her lawyer and medical care as she refused to wear the veil to leave the women’s ward. 

In its 2022 Freedom to Write Index, PEN America found that Iran was the largest jailer of women writers in the world, and that 16 out of 42 female writers imprisoned worldwide were held in Iran. Sotoudeh, who was PEN America’s 2011 Freedom to Write Awardee, told her husband that significantly more women than men were detained at the funeral. This observation is especially poignant in this political context. More about PEN America’s work on Iran can be found here.

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. To learn more, visit PEN.org.


Contact: Dietlind Lerner, [email protected], +1 310 699 8777