Three Iranian writers sentenced to harsh prison terms for criticizing the state

The Iranian judiciary sentenced three members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) to a total of 18 years in prison on May 15, 2019.

Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Baktash Abtin, and Kayvan Bajan were convicted of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” for publishing the IWA’s internal history, printing internal publications and organizing memorial ceremonies for IWA members murdered by state agents in the 1990s. The sentence was issued by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran presided by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh.

The three have planned to appeal their prison sentences to a higher court within the 20 days allowed to them by law.

In a statement issued on May 16, IWA, an Iranian writers’ union that has campaigned for freedom of expression and against censorship since its founding in 1968, condemned the verdict as one “against all writers and everyone struggling for freedom of expression.”

Two of the trio, Mahabadi and Abtin were indicted last August based on a complaint made by the Ministry of Intelligence in 2015.

The Iranian Writers’ Association in the statement called the accusations “irrelevant” and “baseless” adding that the evidence presented by the complainant against the writers were even more irrelevant.

“This trial is not just the condemnation of three writers. This was not a trial against the IWA alone. It condemns all writers and others who want to enjoy the right to free expression,” said IWA’s statement.

According to the statement, the writers were asked in their interrogations about the reasons for their membership in the Writers’ Association and publishing the Association’s pamphlet.

Among their accusations were paying tribute to deceased poets and writers, the statement said.

The statement by the IWA continued “What kind of ‘national security’ gets threatened with the publication of newsletters and protest statements? Whose security gets threatened when IWA members organize gatherings at the grave of poets and writers?

“No court with the least measure of care for justice, impartiality and human rights could accept such activities as evidence of a crime. In fact, it would see it as a frame job.

“The truth is that the court’s basis for the verdict against the three IWA members was nothing but their exercise of free expression and opposition to censorship.”

The Iranian regime does not recognize IWA, an independent group formed in Iran in 1968 to fight state censorship and support freedom of expression.

Iranian authorities have never responded to concerns expressed by international human rights watchdogs about its gross violation of human rights including the rights of Iranian writers and intellectuals.

Abtin, Mahabadi and Bajan were arrested in late January 2019 and charged with the national security offenses. They were released on bail after approximately five days in detention. Their trial was held on April 27 and 28, 2019.

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