(NEW YORK)—PEN America has called on the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran to press the Iranian government to urgently release two imprisoned Iranian writers, Arash Ganji and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, from Teheran’s Evin prison.

In a submission to Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman, PEN America stated that the detention and imprisonment of both board members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA)—the leading literary and free expression advocacy group in Iran—runs contrary to international law and violates their human rights. Khandan Mahabadi was honored alongside two other members of the IWA in 2021 with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index, released in April 2022, shows that Iran jails the fourth highest number of writers and public intellectuals in the world.

PEN America called on Rehman, the special rapporteur, to raise these concerns with the Iranian government.  The two writers are serving sentences of 11 years and 6 years in prison, respectively, related to wrongful convictions for their writing and free expression advocacy.

“Arash Ganji and Reza Khandan Mahabadi are in prison for their unequivocal commitment to writing and expression in Iran,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center. “The Iranian government has consistently violated their human rights by imprisoning and maltreating them for exercising their right to free speech. Both live with underlying medical conditions and should urgently be released.”

In January, PEN America, joined by the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, filed a complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding the cases of Arash Ganji and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, alongside formerly imprisoned Iranian writers and 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honorees Keyvan Bajan and the late Baktash Abtin. The Working Group investigates cases where the deprivation of liberty is arbitrary and inconsistent with international standards. Abtin, a prominent poet and filmmaker, died on January 8, 2022 as a result of abuse and neglect while serving a six-year prison sentence on trumped-up charges. Keyvan Bajan was released on parole after serving almost half of his three-year sentence. The Iranian government provided responses to our complaint, summarized here, and the Working Group’s decision on the case is expected in the fall.

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: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057