The cost of courage: Australia must do more to protect whistleblowers

As we reach the end of 2020, four individuals – Bernard Collaery, Witness K, David McBride and Richard Boyle – are being prosecuted by our government. These whistleblowers spoke up in the public interest, and now face the very real prospect of jail time. If we want to live in a transparent, accountable democracy, that should trouble us all.

Collaery and Witness K revealed that Australia bugged Timor-Leste’s cabinet, to help our government in ripping off an impoverished neighbour during tense oil and gas negotiations. McBride blew the whistle on the alleged actions of Australian special forces in Afghanistan – conduct characterised as potential war crimes by the Inspector-General. Boyle called out aggressive debt recovery practices by the Australian Taxation Office, which deliberately targeted vulnerable small businesses.

In each case, these whistleblowers raised their concerns internally first. Witness K articulated their misgivings with the Inspector-General for Intelligence and Security, in consultation with his Intelligence-approved lawyer, Collaery. McBride went to the police. Boyle lodged an internal disclosure. In each case, they were sidelined or ignored.

In desperation, they spoke up. But for these principled people, we might never have known about the misdeeds – potentially illegal, or, at the very least, improper – done in our name. It is only thanks to Collaery, Witness K, McBride and Boyle that we can demand corrective action and take steps to ensure they are never repeated.

We should be praising these whistleblowers. Instead, the Morrison government is prosecuting them. Orwellian? Kafkaesque? Take your pick.

Whether or not Collaery, McBride or Boyle succeed in their defences (Witness K has indicated a willingness to enter a plea of guilty to a single charge of breaching the Intelligence Services Act, subject to a plea bargain), the chilling effect of the prosecutions is severe. What potential whistleblower – having seen the reality faced by the current quartet – would accept these risks and speak up? Staring down the barrel of psychological trauma, professional ruin and financial oblivion, how many prospective truth-tellers will stay silent?

What wrongdoing might be occurring right now that Australians will never know about, because those who witnessed it remain mute? The cost of courage has become too high a price to pay.

It did not have to be like this. In 2013, the Labor government introduced protections for public servant whistleblowers. The Public Interest Disclosure (PID) Act provided a comprehensive regime for the disclosure and investigation of wrongdoing and protections for those who speak up. But while on paper the law was a step in the right direction, it has proven ineffective in practice – no more than a cardboard shield.

In 2016, an independent review by Philip Moss found that “the experience of whistleblowers under the PID Act is not a happy one”. Last year, a Federal Court judge lambasted the law as “technical, obtuse and intractable” and “largely impenetrable”.

On Wednesday, Attorney-General Christian Porter announced that the government was accepting, in part or in whole, 30 of the 33 recommendations made by Moss. This is welcome news, but it is long overdue. Porter and his colleagues have sat on this reform for four and a half years. In the meantime, homes have been raided, charges laid against whistleblowers and secretive trials commenced.

The Attorney-General must reform the PID Act as a matter of urgency. In the government’s official response, it flagged that it intends to go further than the Moss review. This is welcome, although the devil will be in the detail – detail which, for now, remains absent. If Porter is serious about promoting transparency and probity within our democracy, he should commit to legislating stronger protections for government whistleblowers in early 2021. Wednesday’s announcement is a positive step, yet until these changes become law, whistleblowers will continue to suffer.

Recent amendments to the laws protecting Australia’s private sector whistleblowers only underscore Porter’s inaction on public sector reform. Currently, those exposing corporate corruption are better protected than those exposing government misfeasance. That cannot be right. Public servants who speak up deserve protections equal to their private sector counterparts.

Meanwhile, the government has doubled-down on secrecy laws to penalise unauthorised disclosure of official information. It terminates the employment of public servants who dare criticise it online and cuts funding to accountability agencies that were established to keep the government in check. Our freedom of information regime is in tatters. Collectively, these measures guarantee a culture of silence within our public service and make external oversight even harder.

Australia was once a world leader in the field of whistleblower protections. When the first whistleblowing laws were introduced in this country, in 1993, the United States was the only jurisdiction with comparable protections. But as nations across the globe have found innovative ways to protect and empower whistleblowers, Australia has lagged behind. We have failed to shake off the words of a former police commissioner, who once observed that “nobody in Australia much likes whistleblowers”.

Yet any one of us could become a whistleblower. I have met dozens of individuals who have spoken up against wrongdoing. Almost unanimously, they say: “I did not intend to become a whistleblower.”

Many shun the label entirely. They are simply people who did what they believed was right – people who saw cruelty, corruption or abuse of power, and felt morally compelled to do something about it. In their shoes, would we not all hope for the courage to do the same?

Whistleblowers perform a vital democratic function in Australia. They are the canary in the coalmine that is Australian democracy. We must hear their call, not lock them up. The government’s recently-announced commitment to reform the PID Act is welcome, but actions speak louder than words.

Kieran Pender is a senior lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, and leads the centre’s work on whistleblower protections.

Liu Xiaobo Anniversary: Take Action for Yang Hengjun

Name: Yang Hengjun
Occupation: Novelist, blogger and political commentator
Situation: Detained. Charged with espionage
#LiuXiaoboanniversary #YangHengjun

Yang Hengjun is an Australian novelist, blogger and political commentator who is committed to the advancement of human rights and political reform in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

A keen commentator on Chinese politics and the virtues of democratic pluralism, Yang’s writing has been regularly featured in The Diplomat and his blog posts garnered a significant following on Chinese social media, earning himself the nickname of ‘Democracy Peddler’. As a novelist, he has authored a fictional spy trilogy known as the Fatal Series.

Yang was abducted by the security services when visiting the PRC with his family in January 2019, and on 7 October 2020 he was formally charged with espionage. If convicted, Yang faces a potential sentence ranging from three years’ imprisonment to the death penalty.

PEN International considers Yang Hengjun’s detention to be a clear breach of his right to freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Take Action

  • Send an appeal to the Chinese authorities
  • Tell others: share Yang’s case and his work
  • Donate to Pen International

Ask the authorities to:

  • Release Yang Hengjun immediately and unconditionally.
  • Allow Yang Hengjun’s family to leave the PRC without any restrictions.
  • Provide Yang Hengjun with unrestricted access to legal representatives of his choosing and to representatives of the Australian government.
  • End all policies that contravene the PRC government’s international human rights obligations.

Sample tweet:

#YangHengjun’s detention is a breach of his right to freedom of expression. I call for his immediate and unconditional release #LiuXiaoboanniversary

President Xi Jinping – General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President of the People’s Republic of China.

Address: General Secretary Office, Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Zhongnanhai Ximen, Fuyou Street, Xicheng District, Beijing 100017, People’s Republic of China


Ambassador CHENG Jingye – Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Commonwealth of Australia

Address: 15 Coronation Drive, Yarralumla, ACT 2600, Australia.



Ambassador CHEN Xu –Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

Address: 11, Chemin de Surville 1213 Petit-Lancy, Geneva, Switzerland.



Ambassador ZHANG Jun – Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations.

Address: 350 East 35th Street, New York, NY 10016, USA.



Send copies to the diplomatic representatives in country:‌/zwjg_665342‌/2490_665344/

Tell others: share Yang Hengjun’s case and his work

We encourage PEN members to continue to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces about this case in your national or local press;
  • Share information about Yang Hengjun and your campaigning via social media; please use #LiuXiaoboanniversary and #YangHengjun
  • Organise public events, press conferences and demonstrations.

Please let us know about your activities and actions. This helps us monitor the impact of our campaigning.

Sample tweet:

On the Liu Xiaobo Anniversary join @PEN_Int and call for the release of novelist, blogger and political commentator #YangHengjun. Detained. Charged with espionage. [insert link]

Yang Hengjun, excerpt from Fatal Weakness or Achilles Heel

“knocking starts again, and I give in first. I climb up, pull the towel off the chair beside my bed and wrap it around my waist, opening the door with a bare chest. When I open the door I see Landlord Bo trying to jam the key in the hole with shaking hands. From the looks of it, he’s been trying for a while. Before I even have time to get angry, I see standing behind him two middle-aged men, one tall, one short. The old landlord backs off to one side, and the short, fat one of the two strangers flashes his ID in front of my face; before I have time to react, he says, “we’re the police. You are Yang Wenfeng, is that correct?

To learn about Liu Xiaobo Anniversary campaign, click here

PEN International marks the ten-year anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to deceased writer, literary critic and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo on 10 December 2010. The Liu Xiaobo Anniversary Campaign acts as a commemoration of Liu Xiaobo’s life, his contribution to Chinese literature, and his selfless work promoting basic freedoms in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The anniversary date coincides with Human Rights Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. The date also coincides with the publication of the Charter 08 Manifesto on 10 December 2008. This is a seminal document, co-authored by Liu Xiaobo and other Chinese activists, which calls for greater human rights and democratic freedoms in the PRC.

Liu Xiaobo had said he had no enemies, and indeed, he had none. The ideas he represented, that all people are equal, that they have the right to lead their lives as they wish, that individual liberty is the core of humanity, that we respect the dignity of each individual, became anathema for those in power in China. They jailed him for his words and ideas and only granted him medical parole when he had little time left. They tried to get the world to forget him; the world won’t, just as the world won’t forget the poets, writers, publishers, and intellectuals who continue to remain in jail in China, denied their freedoms and their platform. We will read their words, amplify their voices, and stare back at China, drawing inspiration from the man in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square, the Uyghurs in Chinese camps, the democracy activists on the streets of Hong Kong, as Charter 08 keeps reminding us. Salil Tripathi, Chair, PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, Writer and Journalist.

What difference does the Liu Xiaobo Anniversary Campaign make?

Besides commemorating Liu Xiaobo, remembering his life and his enduring influence in the PRC, the campaign highlights the case of writers Gui Minhai, Kunchok Tsephel, Yang Hengjun and Qin Yongmin who are currently detained by the PRC government. For all featured writers, the campaign raises awareness of their situation, boosts advocacy work on their behalf and ensures that they and their families feel supported and not forgotten. Activities range from letter-writing to panel discussions, press conferences to publishing the work of imprisoned writers. PEN Centres and members worldwide take action to advocate for these cases throughout the campaign.

How can I take action for the Liu Xiaobo Anniversary Campaign?

Please raise awareness of a different writer, write letters to the PRC officials and call for their release using #LiuXiaoboanniversary, #GuiMinhai, #KunchokTsephel, #YangHengjun, #QinYongmin.

More information is available at the link below:


Farhad Bandesh walks free

Dec 11, 2020       8.26 pm        Arnold Zable sent PEN Melbourne Committee the following email:

Dear PEN comrades,

One of those moments we all work for.
One of those wonderful days — all the more sweet because it was not expected, and happened on Farhad’s birthday.
Was there with Jennell Quinsee and Craig Foster as he walked out.
This is what I posted on social media. Along wth these photos.
Con, our website post (below) has been so quickly superceded.
Later we celebrated Farhad’s birthday.
Today an innocent man finally walked free. The moment Farhad Bandesh walked through the gates of MITA prison time stood still. It is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life — Farhad, guitar in hand after eight long years in hell, stepping out, under blue skies —on his birthday. Seeing Farhad come out was a precious gift for us all. Freedom. The greatest gift of all.

A new campaign ‘TIME FOR A HOME’

Statement by Arnold Zable:

The indefinite detention of refugees, both offshore and onshore, is cruel and inhumane. These are people who have committed no crime yet continue to be denied freedom. They are people who embarked on perilous journeys in search of a haven, a refuge, a chance to resettle and rebuild their lives. Instead of finding a home, they continue to languish in limbo. Caught between a traumatic past, and an uncertain future, they have been traumatised all over again. Seven years and still counting. There is a samurai maxim: Even a hunter does not harm a bird that comes to it in search of refuge. It is time for this unjust policy to be brought to an end. I stand in solidarity with detained refugees who, like my own forebears, and many others before them, came here in search of a haven, a sanctuary, a place to call home. It is a basic human right.

A new campaign ‘TIME FOR A HOME’ calling for The release and resettlement of refugees now into their eighth year of detention – effectively imprisonment.  I am one of the ambassadors in this campaign. See the links below. They are the forgotten ones. They have been in lockdown for seven and a half years and still counting.  They have committed no crime.   On a more personal note —  Farhad Bandesh, who is in MITA in Broadmeadows, is releasing a new  song at 11 am tomorrow ‘The Smiling Boy.’

I am  privileged to be one of the collaborators on this project. There is a story behind the song. I first heard it on one of my regular visits to Farhad, who was then detained in the Mantra hotel. As it turned out, it was to be one of the last visits before the Covid lockdowns began.

I attach the press release about the music video and song.   Please spread far and wide.

Media Release

Kurdish musician detained by Australia for 8 years, celebrates 8th detention birthday by releasing
animated music video ‘THE SMILING BOY’

MELB, AUS, 7 DEC 2020 – For Immediate Release

On Dec 11, 2020, Kurdish Artist Farhad Bandesh (currently detained at MITA, Melbourne), marks his 8th consecutive birthday in Australian detention with the release of The Smiling Boy, a powerful animated music video celebrating hope and resilience in the face of suffering. The video, created in detention, calls for the overdue release of refugees, and features collaborations with an international array of writers, musicians and animators.

While lockdown restrictions unwind around Australia, Farhad faces the milestone of his 39th birthday with typical resilience and creativity. Despite enduring detention for 8 years, he remains proactive and hopeful, and continues his advocacy for refugees, while collaborating from within detention, with a huge collection of musicians, songwriters and animators.

“The Government wants to bury us alive,” laments Farhad, referencing a lyric of his song,” but this song is a gift for my birthday and for the 1000+ refugees still in detention since 2013 — it’s a reminder to stay hopeful, and it’s a reminder that community support for refugees is gathering huge momentum in Australia. Our freedom will come.”

Since 2013, despite being detained for 6 years on Manus Island and several years in Melbourne, Farhad has continued to remain proactive – speaking on the ABC’s Q+A about Covid conditions in detention, conducting media interviews, launching online exhibitions of his painting, writing music and lyrics, editing music videos, contributing to songwriting conferences via zoom, always continuing to care and advocate for others, and always seeking new collaborative creative partners.

“It deeply disturbs me that Australia has kept so many people detained for indefinite lengths of time”, said Neil Sanders, who directed the international collection of animators who contributed to this music video, “but seeing how Farhad remains so creative and hopeful was a real inspiration to get involved and help him get his message out.”

“Farhad’s fierce creativity in the face of over seven relentless years of detention, is an extraordinary act of resistance,” said writer Arnold Zable, who collaborated on the lyrics. “Despite it all, Farhad has not succumbed to despair. His fearless advocacy, and the stories he tells through his songs, poems and artworks, are both deeply personal and emblematic of the ongoing suffering of his fellow detainees.”

The smiling boy in the song and video, refers to a tragic event that took place in the late ’80s, where tens of thousands of Kurds, including many children, were murdered in the deserts of Iraq. In one haunting photo of this incident, a boy is captured smiling at the camera, in brave defiance of his impending fate. Like the Kurdish community, Farhad draws strength from this gesture, to face an unknown future.

For his 8th birthday in detention, Farhad calls on the Federal Government to end this inhumane suffering, and release refugees from their indefinite detention.

“There are Australian people and communities willing to host refugees. New Zealand offered long ago to host refugees. The solutions are there – the government needs to end the unnecessary suffering they have caused for so many years.”


11am, DEC 11, 2020 –





Farhad Bandesh, musician               +61 421 961 459
Neil Sanders, director / animator      +61 413 429 334
Arnold Zable, writer                            +61 400 080 548


5 November 2020

05 NOV 20 Coalition of 60 organisations launch Time for a Home campaign giving Morrison Government a June 2021 deadline to resettle refugees

A coalition of 60 grassroots networks, legal, medical, community and human rights organisations are calling on the Morrison Government to release and resettle people seeking asylum and refugees held in indefinite detention for up to seven years.

The Time for a Home campaign launched today, is calling on the Morrison Government to resettle people in a permanent home by World Refugee Day in June 2021.

People who have been through offshore processing and remain detained in a network of facilities, including Alternative Places of Detention (APODs) of Mantra Hotel in Melbourne and Kangaroo Point Hotel in Brisbane, and offshore, need a permanent home to recover their health and rebuild their lives.

Human rights activist detained at Villawood detention facility, Farhad Rahmati:
“I am a civil engineer but I don’t have a future. The Australian Government has imprisoned us for 7 precious years of life, away from loved ones and community. We lost 13 brothers who died in offshore processing, it’s time for Prime Minister Morrison to give us freedom to start life again in a safe, new home.”

Louise Redmond, National President of Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR):
“RAR members have been visiting people seeking asylum and refugees in detention particularly in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. for many years and have kept in contact via mobile phones during COVID-19 restrictions. It concerns us all that as restrictions ease, visiting rights have not been restored.”

“A number of our members are ready to welcome people into their homes as part of a resettlement process. RAR urges the Government to work with us to develop a plan for fair resettlement of people who have sought our protection.”

Dr Sara Townend, Director of Independent Doctors Network:
“Australian doctors work with asylum seekers and refugees across a number of settings. We see first-hand the impact that detention has on physical and mental health. Providing durable and safe pathways towards resettlement needs to be a priority for these patients.’

Jana Favero, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at Asylum Seeker Resource Centre:
“The only thing standing between a permanent home and refugees is our Government. We must stop punishing people, simply because they sought safety on our shores. The community has spoken, Doctors have spoken, and experts have spoken. It’s time for our Government to stop playing politics with people’s lives and do the right thing.”

Australian Refugee Action Network spokesperson:
People across Australia are saying that there is no justification for holding refugees and people who are seeking our protection for years in immigration detention. Like all of us, people need freedom and the chance to build their futures. Detention is totally unnecessary and damaging to the people deprived of freedom and hope, and to the community and we cannot tolerate it.”

Sarah Dale, Centre Director and Principal Solicitor of Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS):
“Our Government has spent the last 7 years holding men, women and children in appalling conditions, for daring to seek safety on our shores. This from a country that holds itself as a leader in Human Rights. It’s time for the double standards to end and for the Government to allow all refugees to rebuild their lives in permanent safety.”

Dr Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator, Amnesty International Australia:
“For more than 7 years refugees have been stuck in detention. It’s time for this to end, for the Australian Government to show compassion and humanity and find people a home.”


Click here for Media Brief: Time for a Home campaign to release and resettle refugees in detention

Media Contact: Marcella Brassett on 0411 026 142



Kylie Moore-Gilbert released from Iran jail

Gratitude to all those who worked to have Kylie Moore-Gilbert released for her unjust and cruel imprisonment. Kylie’s generous words on her release reveal her courage and resilience in face of abhorrent treatment in prison.


Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian-British academic detained in Iran for more than two years, has paid tribute to the Australian diplomats who worked to secure her release, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described her freeing as “a miracle”.

The Melbourne University academic’s release brings to an end more than two years of diplomatic feuding between Australia and Iran which included Moore-Gilbert being transferred to a notorious remote women’s prison in the desert.

“Thank you also to all of you who have supported me and campaigned for my freedom, it has meant the world to me to have you behind me throughout what has been a long and traumatic ordeal,” she said in a statement released on Thursday morning.

For further reading:

The Age

From ABC News

Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert released from Iran jail as part of an exchange for three Iranian prisoners

Posted Thursday 26 November, 2020


Australian Academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert reportedly moved from Iranian prison to unknown location

Oct 29, 2020

Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been imprisoned in Iran for more than two years.

Friends and colleagues of the Australian academic are calling for the government to confirm her location and wellbeing.

By Maani Truu, SBS News

Friends and colleagues of imprisoned Australian citizen Kylie Moore-Gilbert say they fear the worst after the academic was reportedly moved from a notorious Iranian prison to an unknown location.

A group of supporters lobbying for Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release say they have independently confirmed she has been moved from Qarchak women’s prison after being informed of the move about 36 hours ago.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Monday said the government was “seeking further information” on reports she had been moved, spurring further concern among her friends and colleagues.

“The ambassador had a consular visit with Doctor Moore-Gilbert a short time ago. The reports that we have seen are ones which we are seeking further information on,” Senator Payne told reporters.

Jessie Moritz, a Middle East academic and friend of Dr Moore-Gilbert, told SBS News it was the second time the government had been unaware of the academic’s location in months, referring to the earlier move of the academic from Evin Prison outside Tehran to the harsher Qarchak Prison.

“Marise Payne saying the government is seeking further information is not promising, that suggests they don’t know where she is at the moment and that they’re seeking clarification from the Iranian government about where she is,” she said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also refused to confirm reports of the move, but said Australia’s Ambassador in Tehran had regular consular access to Dr Moore-Gilbert.

This includes a meeting which happened “a short time ago” within the prison, Senator Payne said.

“The Government’s continuing efforts to secure Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release are an absolute priority. We remain focused on her health, wellbeing and safety,” a spokesperson said.

The former University of Melbourne lecturer has been imprisoned in Iran for more than two years after she was arrested in Tehran following an academic conference in September 2018. She has since been sentenced to 10 years jail for alleged spying charges.

Both Dr Moore-Gilbert and the Australian government steadfastly reject the allegations. “We do not accept the charges upon which Dr Moore-Gilbert was convicted, and want to see her returned to Australia as soon as possible,” a DFAT spokesperson said.

Last month, former colleagues and students described Dr Moore-Gilbert as incredibly bright, humble and a rising star of academia.

They are calling for the Australian government to confirm she’s safe and, more broadly, to do more to secure her release from prison.

“I really do understand that there needs to be a level of secrecy in cases like this, and if it is, this is a result of negotiations moving forward. There’ll be a level of secrecy around that,” Dr Moritz said.

“But the alternative is that Iran has been reshuffling prisoners due to the massive COVID-19 outbreak, due to the upcoming anniversary of protests… and we have no way to know if this is a positive or negative development.”

Qarchak prison has a crowded population of between 1,200 and 2,000 inmates, some who have contracted COVID-19.

Last month, Iran’s Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights released a report into the impact of COVID-19 in Iranian prisons, revealing harrowing conditions inside Qarchak, including overflowing sewage, undrinkable “salty” water, poor quality food delivered in small quantities, and wards transformed into quarantine facilities.

Website for the campaign to free Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Sedigeh Vasmaghi

15 Nov: Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2020: Take action for Sedigeh Vasmaghi

Name: Sedigeh Vasmaghi

Occupation: Theologian, poet, writer and women’s rights activist

Situation: Facing six years in prison. Books banned in Iran.

#ImprisonedWriter #SedigehVasmaghi

Sedigeh Vasmaghi is a theologian, poet, writer, and women’s rights activist who has written on a broad sweep of theological, political and social issues. She is highly regarded in Iran and abroad for her commentary on Islamic jurisprudence in Iran.

In August 2020, Vasmaghi was sentenced to one year in prison for signing a petition criticising police brutality against protestors who had participated in demonstrations in November 2019. This sentence has been added to a five-year prison suspended term served on her in 2017, a total of six years. She remained free on appeal until October 2020 when her sentence was upheld. She is currently waiting to learn when she will be required to enter prison.

Vasmaghi has for decades lived under constant surveillance and harassment, and her books are banned in Iran. She left Iran in 2011 to spend six years in exile in Germany and Sweden before returning in 2017. This sentence is the latest attempt to stifle Vasmaghi’s critical and independent commentary.

PEN International considers the sentences to be a clear breach of Sedigeh Vasmaghi’s right to freedom of expression and calls for them to be rescinded.


Take Action

  1. Send an appeal to the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran
  2. Tell others: share Sedigeh Vasmaghi’s case and her work
  3. Give to our Day of Imprisoned Writer appeal
  4. Read author Lisa Appignanesi’s solidarity letter to Sedigeh Vasmaghi


  1. Send an appeal to the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ask the authorities to:

  • Protest the upholding in October 2020 of the one-year sentence levied against Sedigeh Vasmaghi, and that a previous suspended five-year sentence will be activated leading to a total of six years in prison.
  • Point out that she has been convicted on charges that are clear breaches of her right to freedom of expression and association.
  • Demand that she not be required to enter prison, and that the charges against her be dropped.
  • Ensure that she can continue her legitimate practice as a writer and activist without further hindrance.
  • Lift the ban on her publications in Iran.

Sample tweet:

Drop the charges against #SedigehVasmaghi and lift ban on her publications. #ImprisonedWriter @khamenei_ir


Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Grand Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei

Address: The Office of the Supreme Leader, Islamic Republic Street, End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran.


Twitter: @khamenei_ir (English), @Khamenei_ar (Arabic), @Khamenei_es (Spanish).


Head of the Judiciary

Mr Ebrahim Raisi

Address: c/o Permanent Mission of Iran to the UN, Chemin du Petit-Saconnex 28, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland


Twitter: @Iran_UN (English)


President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Hassan Rouhani

Address: The Presidency, Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran


Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and @Rouhani_ir (Persian)


Send copies to the Embassy of Iran in your country:


  1. Tell others: share Sedigeh Vasmaghi’s case and her work

We encourage PEN members to continue to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces about this case in your national or local press;
  • Raise Sedigeh Vasmaghi’s case with academic institutions, specifically departments dealing with Islam and theology, and women’s rights organisations, asking them to take action on her behalf;
  • Share information about Sedigeh Vasmaghi and your campaigning via social media; please use #ImprisonedWriter and #SedigehVasmaghi
  • Organise public events, press conferences and demonstrations.


Please let us know about your activities and actions. This helps us monitor the impact of our campaigning.


Sample tweet:

On Day of the #ImprisonedWriter join @PEN_Int and take action for Iranian writer & theologian #SedigehVasmaghi

Please share this graphic on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to highlight Sedigeh’s case.


“You can imprison my body, but never my conscience! I protest against all injustices and oppression, and against the imprisonment of the innocent.” Sedigeh Vasmaghi

#ImprisonedWriter #SedigehVasmaghi


  1. Give to our Day of Imprisoned Writer appeal


Imprisoned writers rely on PEN to advocate for their freedom and to defy those who want to silence them. From practical support for writers seeking asylum or in exile, to using our platforms to share their words, to putting pressure on the powerful – this work is only possible with your support.


Give today


Read Lisa Appignanesi’s solidarity letter to Sedigeh Vasmaghi


Dear Sedigeh Vasmaghi,

It is terrible to think that you have been sentenced for signing a petition criticizing police brutality against protestors.

Don’t the Iranian authorities know that putting one’s name to a petition is an everyday act? Don’t they know that people have engaged in petitioning for thousands of years and that the first documented petitions come from the time of Egyptian pyramid-building, when slaves called for improved working conditions. Governments have been addressed by petitions and petitioners ever since – from Imperial China to present day America and every historical moment and geographical locus in between. Around the world petitioning remains a way for people to find redress for grievances. 

A grandmother, you bravely chose to return to Iran despite an earlier five-year sentence to which this new one has been added. The Iranian government has none of your bravery. It seems to be afraid of a writer of your talent and stature, a woman whose prizewinning poetry and translations from the classical Arabic have delighted generations, a rare woman who has taught law in her native land and abroad and whose scholarly work on Women, Jurisprudence, Islam (2014) and studies of polygamy have long informed legal thinking in the field and are now banned.

If the state had confidence in its own power and acts, it would hardly need to silence you. We know that if they put you in prison, you will carry on writing and protesting. Injustice doesn’t disappear with the bolt clanging shut on a prison cell. The brutality of the massacre you petitioned against remains a blot on Iran’s history and in the memory of its people. Around the world other writers stand beside you as do the people who have survived their ruler’s misdeeds.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the great dramatist Harold Pinter asserted that political power was maintained by the creation of a vast tapestry of lies, by keeping people oblivious to the truth. The role of the writer thus becomes to rescue language, to speak truth and stand up to power: ‘I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all.’

Sedigeh, you have done this for many years. We stand beside you. 

We hope that the Iranian government will stop short of the injustice of your imprisonment and also recognize the common right of petitioning. 

Lisa Appignanesi – former President English PEN




Sedigeh Vasmaghi is one of a small number of women who have taught Islamic law in Iran, and her publications include Women, Jurisprudence, Islam (2014), translated into English and German but banned in her home country. Other works include Polygamy within Islam and Temporary Marriage with Islam and Cohabitation in the West, alongside numerous newspaper and journal articles. She held a research post on family law at Sheffield University, and served as a guest lecturer Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany.


Vasmaghi is also a poet and published her first poetry collection, Praying for Rain, in 1989, for which she received the 1991 Best Book Award by the University of Al-Zahra, Tehran. Since then, she has published five collections of poetry. She has also translated classical Arabic poetry to Persian. Read some of her poetry.


Sedigeh Vasmaghi has long been the subject of attempts to silence her critical voice. For instance, in 1997 she was served a two-month prison term for an article on discussions between a government deputy and a British official, a sentence that was quashed by the Appeal Court, after international pressure by human rights groups including Amnesty International.


The harassment continued. Then in February 2011, the Iranian Security Ministry issued an order for Vasmaghi’s arrest. She went into hiding before fleeing the country in March 2011 for Germany where she took up a post of guest professor at the department of Islamic Studies, University of Göttingen, in the department of Islamic Studies. In 2012, she moved to Uppsala in Sweden as an International Cities of Refuge (ICORN) resident. When her residency ended in 2014, she stayed on as a research fellow at Uppsala University.


Then, on 14 October 2017, Vasmaghi, along with her husband, left Sweden to return to Iran. On her arrival she was detained for several hours at Tehran’s International Airport before being released to appear before the Tehran Revolutionary Court on 22 October. During a 10-minute hearing, the judge mentioned a previous court ruling pronounced against the writer before her departure abroad, as well as her opposition to the practice of stoning women found guilty of adultery.


Vasmaghi was taken to Evin prison, then released on bail on 4 November 2017. Vasmaghi’s appeal was held on 16 May 2018 and she was given a five-year suspended sentence. In September 2019, she was banned from leaving the country.


Despite this, Vasmaghi continued her political activism. In June 2020 she was served with a court summons related to a petition that she had signed, alongside over 70 others, protesting alleged police brutality against demonstrators who had taken part in rallies in November 2019 against oil price rises. The petition implicated police in the deaths of hundreds of the protestors. The court stated that there had been no evidence of brutality and that the petition was politically motivated.

Vasmaghi refused to attend the court hearing that was held on 4 August, instead issuing a lengthy statement in which she questioned the legitimacy of the court to hear her case. In it she also referred to other accusations levied against her including talking to Persian-language media outside Iran, recommending negotiations between the USA and Iran and for signing another petition earlier in 2019 calling for the separation of religion from state. She was sentenced to one year in prison. Vasmaghi’s appeal against the sentence was over-turned, and she will now be required to enter prison to serve this sentence alongside a previous five-year term, for a total of six years’ imprisonment.


I Protest

by Sedigeh Vasmaghi

You can imprison my body, but never my conscience!

I protest, not only against a verdict issued by an illegitimate authority – illegitimate because the Revolutionary Court does not have jurisdiction and because the judge in Branch 26 is the head of intelligence protection in the Revolutionary Court and does not have the authority to pass judgement.

I protest, not only against the contents of the verdict which openly state that the judicial system does not believe in the value of freedom of expression and the right to protest,

Rather, I protest against the government that has ruthlessly ridiculed justice, and that abuses the judicial system, the courts, the prisons, and the judiciary to suppress protest, even in its most peaceful form, which is issuing a statement.

I protest against the government that wants to chain our conscience by depriving us of the human and moral right to protest, and to chain and imprison our conscience.

I protest against the government that wants to force us to remain in a shameful silence in the face of injustice and knowingly and deliberately will not allow conscious and responsible citizens to fight the destruction and disorder with their civil rights.

I protest against the government that wants to deprive us of humanity and turn it into indifferent and silent statues.

I protest against the government that has woven tension and conflict into its cloth, conflict with everyone, with its people and the world, and which, with its least honourable policies, has deprived us of physical and spiritual peace and security.

I protest against all injustices and oppression, and against the imprisonment of the innocent.

I am still protesting against the brutal massacre of November 2019. Wherever I may be, even in prison, I protest and will protest against injustice.

You can imprison my body, but never my conscience! I prefer prison to shameful silence in the face of injustice and corruption.

Wise Jibreel will open the lock one day

The key to the prison will be found, grieve not

Sedigeh Vasmaghi

25 August 2020





  • The verdict was issued against those accused of the “statement of the 77 people” / Ali Shakoori Rad was sentenced to one year in prison because of the statement of the Islamic Iran Nation Unity Party / Mehdi Mahmoudian was sentenced to five years in prison / Mohammad Hossein Karroubi, Mohsen Armin, Ghorban Behzadiannejad and Sedigheh Vasmaghi were sentenced to one year in prison.


  • Extension – News Group: Hojjat Kermani, the lawyer and legal expert Azar Mansouri, Reyhaneh Tabatabai, Ali Shakoori Rad and Mohsen Aminzadeh gave the news that the verdict had been announced for 14 reformist political activists, prosecuted on account of the “statement of the 77 people” in Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran.


  • According to this lawyer, the verdict stated that Ms Azar Mansouri, Ms Reyhaneh Tabatabai, Mr Issa Saharkhiz, Mr Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, Mr Mohammad Sadegh Norouzi, Mr Mehdi Darispour, Mr Hassan Asadizidabadi, and Mr Mohsen Aminzadeh were acquitted of “spreading propaganda against the system”, but Mr Ali Shakoori Rad, Mr Mohammad Hossein Karroubi, Mr Mohsen Armin, Mr Ghorban Behzadiannejad and Ms Sedigheh Vasmaghi were sentenced to one year in prison.


  • Also, Mr. Mehdi Mahmoudian was sentenced to one year in prison on charges of “spreading propaganda against the system” and to four years in prison, a two year ban on party membership and leaving the country, and 4 months community service on charges of “conspiracy to disrupt the security of the country”.


  • It should be mentioned that in the case of Mohammad Hossein Karroubi, Issa Saharkhiz, Mehdi Mahmoudian, Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, Mohsen Armin, Mohammad Sadegh Norouzi, Ghorban Behzadiannejad, Mehdi Darispour, Hassan Asadizidabadi, Mohsen Aminzadeh, Azar Mansoori, Reyhan Tabatabai and Sedigheh Vasmaghi, were accused of “spreading propaganda against the system” after signing the “statement of the 77 people” regarding the events of November 2019 in protest against the increase in gasoline prices and calling for non-violence in dealing with protesters. Mr. Ali Shakoori Rad, was accused of “spreading propaganda against the system” after issuing a statement from the Ittihad Mellat party regarding the events of November 2019.


# امتداد



Nasrin Sotoudeh released on temporary leave

Nasrin’s Message on her Facebook page, 8 Nov 2020

Dear friends and human rights activists,

With your love and care, I have returned home on medical leave to pursue my treatments. Every day that I spend out of prison, I am waiting to hear the news of the release of all political prisoners.
I’d like to express my gratitude for all national and international organizations in Iran and abroad, Bar Associations in various countries, human rights organizations as well as different individuals such as artists, writers, politicians, civil rights activists, defenders of human rights, news outlets and my dear colleagues around the world. It is because of your love and support that political prisoners can endure prison.
Hoping for the release of all political prisoners
Nasrin Sotoudeh
Human Rights Lawyer, Weakened from Lack of Proper Medical Care, Now Home in Tehran

November 7, 2020—Imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was released on furlough (temporary leave) today from Gharchak Prison in the Iranian city of Varamin, south of Tehran, her husband Reza Khandan told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“We welcome Nasrin Sotoudeh’s release on temporary furlough and call on the authorities in Iran to permanently release her,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of CHRI.

“Sotoudeh never should have been imprisoned to begin with and has suffered egregious harm due to lack of medical care,” Ghaemi said.

Sotoudeh, who has been jailed multiple times for her peaceful human rights work as a defense attorney in Iran, has been in prison since she was arrested in June 2018 for “encouraging prostitution” for advocating against compulsory hijab.

On August 11, 2020, she began a hunger strike to protest the situation of Iran’s political prisoners, especially their exclusion from prisoner release programs aimed at stemming the tide of COVID-19 in the country’s overcrowded and unhygienic prisons.

She was hospitalized on September 19 as her medical condition deteriorated—only to be sent back to Evin prison on September 23, despite her worsening condition.

On September 26, when Sotoudeh ended her hunger strike, her husband explained that the prison doctors were “shocked” that she had been returned to prison in her condition, and “strongly protested,” as during her hospitalization severe cardiac issues were identified.

Khandan also reported that during her hospitalization, Sotoudeh was exposed to guards who later tested positive for COVID-19.

On October 20, she was transferred from Evin Prison to the notoriously harsh and dangerous Gharchak Prison (also spelled Qarchak), despite serious continuing cardiac and pulmonary issues that required her hospitalization.

Sotoudeh is serving a 38-year sentence (12 years of which she must serve before becoming eligible for release) for defending basic civil and political liberties in Iran.


Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh Transferred to Notorious Gharchak Prison

Human Rights Lawyer?s Health in Serious Danger

October 20, 2020 ? Nasrin Sotoudeh, the imprisoned human rights attorney, has been moved to the notoriously harsh Gharchak Prison (also spelled Qarchak) in the Iranian city of Varamin, south of Tehran, despite grave medical issues that require her hospitalization, her husband, Reza Khandan said today, October 20, 2020.

Sotoudeh, who has serious cardiac and pulmonary complications after being on a hunger strike from August 11 to September 26, 2020 to protest the continued imprisonment of Iran?s political prisoners, will now continue serving her 38-year sentence (12 years of which she must serve before becoming eligible for release) at one of Iran?s most dangerous and inhumane prisons.

In an interview with CHRI on October 20, 2020, Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh?s husband, stated: ?When Nasrin?s heart condition became worse, she needed an angiography. We have been waiting these past few days to prepare for her transfer to the hospital [from Evin Prison]. Today the authorities told her to get ready to go to the hospital but then she ended up in Gharchak Prison. The transfer was not announced by the prison authorities but by Nasrin herself who was allowed to make a brief phone call to give the news.?

?By denying Nasrin Sotoudeh critically needed medical care, and instead moving her to Gharchak Prison, known for its horrific conditions, the authorities in Iran are placing Nasrin Sotoudeh?s life in immediate danger,? said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

?Sending Sotoudeh to sit behind bars alongside common criminals in conditions much more dangerous than Evin Prison is a desperate and transparent attempt to punish her?and to risk her life if they cannot silence her and her family any other way,? Ghaemi added.

CHRI calls for the immediate transfer of Nasrin Sotoudeh to hospital where she can receive full and proper treatment with the consent of her family.

Husband: ?The authorities used trickery and deceit to transfer a prisoner?

Khandan told CHRI: ?The authorities used trickery and deceit to transfer a prisoner, even though there was no need to do so. Nasrin didn?t have any of her belongings with her since she had only prepared to go to the hospital. She does not have her warm clothes and given her heart condition, we?re very worried for her.

?These kinds of behaviors by the judicial authorities toward Nasrin is the continuation of a policy of pressure and intimidation against our family ? from my daughter?s detention and continuing persecution, to stricter restrictions on Nasrin?s basic rights in prison.

?The reason for these harsh acts and pressures is Nasrin?s recent hunger strike and its impact in raising international awareness about Iran?s political prisoners. By resorting to deceit and trickery to transfer a prisoner, the judiciary has only added to its notoriety among the public.?

Prison Doctors ?Shocked? at Sotoudeh?s Return to Prison

Sotoudeh was hospitalized on September 19 as her medical condition deteriorated?only to be?sent back to Evin prison?on September 23, despite her worsening condition.

On September 26, 2020, when Sotoudeh ended her hunger strike, Khandan relayed that the prison doctors were ?shocked? that she had been returned to prison in her condition, and ?strongly protested,? as during her hospitalization severe cardiac issues were identified.

Khandan also reported that during her hospitalization from September 19 to September 23, Sotoudeh was exposed to multiple guards who later tested positive for COVID-19. He stated that doctors outside the hospital who reviewed her tests consider her transfer back to prison as ?a deliberate attempt to put her life in danger.?

Khandan also said on Facebook today, October 20, 2020 that ?Three weeks ago, after being hospitalised, she was taken back to the prison before completing her full treatment. According to experts, she had to be transferred once again to the hospital for an urgent heart examination and angiography, but instead the Evin authorities have relocated her to Qarchak prison, where the healthcare and prison detention conditions are even worse than Evin prison.?

Nasrin Sotoudeh?is in prison for her peaceful work defending basic civil and political rights in Iran. Among her charges were ?encouraging prostitution? for advocating against compulsory hijab and defending citizens? right to peaceful dissent.


PEN International is alarmed by reports that the health of Iranian writer, lawyer and rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh has deteriorated following her transfer from hospital back to her prison cell. It calls on PEN members to reiterate their calls for her for her immediate release and to be able the receive the medical attention she so urgently needs.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been imprisoned since June 2018 and is serving a cruelly long sentence of 38 years in retaliation for her work as legal representative for human rights victims. In August 2020 she went on hunger strike, ending it six weeks later as her health became critical. She was subsequently transferred to hospital on 19 September to receive treatment for heart disease and other medical issues. However, she was returned to Evin Prison just a few days later, against medical advice that she should remain in hospital as her health needs continue to be acute. This decision has been described by UN experts as ?unfathomable? and that her imprisonment is clearly in retaliation for her defence of human rights.


Concerns for Nasrin Sotoudeh?s health amidst high prevalence of COVID-19 in Iran?s prisons

PEN International learned on 20 October that Sotoudeh has been transferred again, this time to Qarchak women?s prison, 30 km outside Tehran and notorious for its appalling conditions.

Sotoudeh?s situation becomes more alarming with the news that several of the guards present in the hospital where Sotoudeh was being treated have contracted COVID-19. The poor sanitary conditions in Iran?s prisons has exacerbated an already acute situation for political prisoners, leading the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, to call for temporary release of all rights defenders.

On 22 September 2020 PEN International issued a call to action, demanding that the Iranian authorities release Nasrin Sotoudeh immediately and unconditionally. Today, a month later, it repeats its call, with added urgency in light of her deteriorating health.

To read more about Nasrin Sotoudeh?s case and advice on action you can take, see PEN International alert of 22 September 2020. Learn more about PEN International’s reporting on Iran.

For more information, please contact Sara Whyatt, MENA Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email:

PEN Melbourne call to RAN Writers for action:

Dear RAN writers ,

As always, I hope this email finds you well and safe. I?m writing tonight to ask you to take further action for Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran. Her health is worsening and moreover, PEN International has just learned that she has been transferred to the notorious Qarchak women?s prison, in the desert 30 km from Tehran.? The conditions in this prison are appalling, not to mention that several of the guards present in the hospital where Sotoudeh was being treated prior to her removal back to prison have contracted COVID-19. For more information see:

We would be grateful if you could reiterate your appeals from the last RAN sent out on the 22 Sept, calling for her immediate release and for her to be able to receive the medical attention she so urgently needs.

I?ve copied the information from the last RAN below including the addresses of the authorities. Please let us know if you happen to receive any replies (as ever, a long shot!).

Many thanks again for your support. All best wishes to you,



TAKE ACTION! Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media

Please send appeals to the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

  • Expressing alarm over Nasrin Sotoudeh?s condition and treatment by the Iranian security services while she is gravely ill;
  • Calling for her immediate pardoning and release from detainment by the Iranian security services;
  • Calling for the immediate cessation of any harassment of her family;
  • Urging for the release of all political prisoners who remain unjustly detained and are at great risk of exposure to COVID-19 while incarcerated.

Send appeals to:

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Grand Ayatollah Sayed ?Ali Khamenei

Address: The Office of the Supreme Leader, Islamic Republic Street, End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran.


Twitter: @khamenei_ir (English), @Khamenei_ar (Arabic), @Khamenei_es (Spanish).

Head of the Judiciary

Mr Ebrahim Raisi

Address: c/o Permanent Mission of Iran to the UN, Chemin du Petit-Saconnex 28, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland


Twitter: @Iran_UN (English)

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Hassan Rouhani

Address: The Presidency, Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran


Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and @Rouhani_ir (Persian)

Send copies to the Embassy of Iran in your country:

Josephine Scicluna & Jackie Mansourian

Writers in Prison Co-convenors

Melbourne Centre of PEN International


Iran: Call for immediate release of Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights lawyer and activist, who is gravely ill while on hunger strike

PEN International is gravely concerned over the health and wellbeing of prominent Iranian writer, lawyer and human rights activist, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been on hunger strike in protest against the dire prison conditions that political detainees in Iran continue to face during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, who herself is unjustly incarcerated in Evin prison for 38 years in retaliation for her work as legal representative for human rights victims, has been on hunger strike since 11 August in protest against the disgraceful treatment of political detainees in prison throughout the country. While Iranian authorities have belatedly released some prisoners in recognition of the threat posed by COVID-19 on detainees already enduring harrowing prison conditions, many political prisoners remain incarcerated. Several other detainees, including Rezvaneh Ahmad Khanbeigi, have joined Nasrin on hunger strike.

This is the second hunger strike to have been undertaken by Nasrin Sotoudeh this year in support of the release of political prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to her selfless activism, Iranian authorities have continually harassed her family, arbitrarily arresting Nasrin?s daughter, Mehraveh Khandan, on politically motivated charges on 17 August. In response to the targeting of her daughter by Iranian security services, Nasrin has given up her visitation rights. Despite the bravery Nasrin has shown in the face of repression by Iranian authorities, her health has continued to severely deteriorate while on hunger strike, with her husband reporting that she has been taken to the cardiac unit of Talefani hospital on 19 September due to heart problems and other health issues. PEN International has also received shocking reports that the security team overseeing her treatment in hospital have assaulted her while she was confined to her wheelchair.

PEN International joins our Centres, including PEN America and Swedish PEN, in their call for the immediate and unconditional release of Nasrin Sotoudeh, urging that she receives vital medical care free from intimidation. All acts of harassment against Nasrin and her family must be ceased at once, and the charges against her quashed, bringing an end to the use of the judiciary as a tool of repression and coercion against those seeking to better the lives of Iranian citizens. We also join the Office of the United Nations Office High Commissioner for Human Rights in its call for Iranian authorities to immediately release all political detainees, whom are frequently targeted for expressing critical views and incarcerated without sufficient legal basis.

TAKE ACTION! Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media

Please send appeals to the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

  • Expressing alarm over Nasrin Sotoudeh?s condition and treatment by the Iranian security services while she is gravely ill;
  • Calling for her immediate pardoning and release from detainment by the Iranian security services;
  • Calling for the immediate cessation of any harassment of her family;
  • Urging for the release of all political prisoners who remain unjustly detained and are at great risk of exposure to COVID-19 while incarcerated.

Send appeals to:

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Grand Ayatollah Sayed ?Ali Khamenei

Address: The Office of the Supreme Leader, Islamic Republic Street, End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran.


Twitter: @khamenei_ir (English), @Khamenei_ar (Arabic), @Khamenei_es (Spanish).

Head of the Judiciary

Mr Ebrahim Raisi

Address: c/o Permanent Mission of Iran to the UN, Chemin du Petit-Saconnex 28, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland


Twitter: @Iran_UN (English)

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Hassan Rouhani

Address: The Presidency, Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran


Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and @Rouhani_ir (Persian)

Send copies to the Embassy of Iran in your country:

** Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 31 October 2020 **


PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh and freedom of expression in Iran;
  • Share information about Nasrin Sotoudeh and your campaigning activities via social media calling for the quashing of her sentence and immediate, unconditional release.

** Please keep PEN International informed of any action you take in regard to Nasrin Sotoudeh?s case, including any responses you receive from the authorities **


For previous actions by PEN International on Iran, click here.

PEN International is alarmed about the large number of writers and activists in Iran who have been detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Lawyers such as Nasrin Sotoudeh are doing invaluable human rights work by representing suppressed voices in a time of veiled judicial crackdown on civil society in Iran. She is a symbol of civil courage to many around the world. A mother of two, she was previously arrested in 2010 and sentenced to 11 years of in prison 2011 on similar charges. She was released in 2013 after increasing international condemnation. Since the revolution of 1979, Iran?s powerful clergy establishment have remained in control of the state. Arrests, tortures and enforced disappearances of dissidents have become a pattern in Iran in recent years.

PEN International?s 2019 Case List includes a number of writers in prison and on trial in Iran. This is in violation of the Islamic Republic of Iran?s obligations under international human rights law, mainly through restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. PEN International?s concerns for these imprisoned writers is made more acute considering the health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and reports of violence in prisons.

For more information, please contact Sara Whyatt, MENA Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email:

Husband Catches Glimpse as She is Wheeled for Tests: ?She does not look well at all?

Imprisoned Human Rights Lawyer on Hunger Strike Since August 11 to Free Iran?s Political Prisoners

September 20, 2020?The imprisoned human rights lawyer?Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been on a?hunger strike since August 11 to free Iran?s political prisoners, has been hospitalized as of September 19, 2020, with her condition worsening, and the family is being denied access to her and any information on her condition, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned, after speaking with her husband, Reza Khandan on September 20, 2020.

?The authorities in Iran may try to hide Nasrin?s dangerous deterioration, but the world is watching and will hold the government responsible for her wellbeing,? said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI executive director.

Sotoudeh?s husband told CHRI, ?Her heart situation is not good at all, they are banning us from visiting her and I cannot go her see her directly.

?I managed to accidentally see her in the hallway as they brought her out for cardiac tests, she was in a wheelchair and I only got a momentary glance of her and she did not look well at all.?

Reza Khandan told CHRI that none of her doctors will speak to him and that she is under stringent guard by security agents.

CHRI is extraordinarily concerned about Nasrin Sotoudeh?s deteriorating medical situation and the egregious violations ongoing right now regarding the authorities? refusal to allow family visitation and consultation. We urgently call on the authorities to allow the family to see her immediately, to provide the family with full information on her condition, and to allow the family to decide on and give consent for any medical treatment.

Sotoudeh was rushed to the hospital yesterday from Evin Prison, where she has been imprisoned since 2018 for her work as a human rights attorney in Iran. There has been an?international outcry?for the release of the human rights attorney, which has gathered urgency as Sotoudeh began her hunger strike.

Nasrin Sotoudeh?is currently serving a 38-year sentence at Evin Prison for her peaceful work defending basic civil and political rights in Iran, 12 years of which she must serve before becoming eligible for parole. Among her charges were ?encouraging prostitution? for advocating against compulsory hijab and defending citizens? right to peaceful dissent.

In addition to the unjust imprisonment of scores of political prisoners in Iran, many have?fallen ill to COVID-19?in Iran?s overcrowded and unhygienic prisons. Iran?s political prisoners were largely left out of the country?s March 2020 mass release of prisoners, which was aimed at stemming the mounting deaths from COVID-19 in the country.

For interviews, contact our Media Department

1 347-689-7782

Visit our website:?

Prominent Iranian Writers Sent to Prison for Peaceful Dissent

Lawyer: “These sentences are without legal and judicial merit. They are only political rulings”

Prominent members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) have begun serving prison sentences for the peaceful expression dissent and their opposition to censorship.

“On September 26, 2020, IWA board members Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Baktash Abtin, as well as former board member Keyvan Bajan, were transferred to Evin Prison [to begin serving their] sentences… The three IWA members must be freed unconditionally,” said a statement from the writers’ association on September 27.

It added: “The IWA believes the enforcement of the sentences is a criminal act and a violation of the principles of human rights…”

The three IWA members were sentenced in May 2019 to six years prison each on charges of “propaganda against the state” (one year) and “assembly and collusion against national security” (five years), for their peaceful actions including publishing documents about the IWA’s history and statements against censorship, and organizing memorial ceremonies for IWA members who’d been killed by state agents in the 1990s.

In December 2019, Branch 36 of the Appeals Court upheld the sentences against Abtin and Mahabadi and reduced Bajan’s sentence to three years and six months. Based on Article 134 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, which states that in cases where there are multiple charges, only the sentence for the most severe charge will be served, Abtin and Mahabadi would have to serve five years in prison.

Lawyer: “The appeal courts in Iran have turned into confirmation courts”

“Unfortunately the appeal courts in Iran have turned into confirmation courts,” human rights attorney Nasser Zarafshan told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) in an interview on October 6, 2020.

“The appeal courts’ authority has been watered down so much that their rulings are just a formality to confirm sentences,” he added.

Zarafshan said the sentences against the three IWA members lacked any legal foundation.

“These sentences are without legal and judicial merit. They are only political rulings,” he said.

The attorney, who himself served five years in prison for representing the families of dissidents murdered in the 1990s, said the persecution of the literary community shows the Iranian authorities’ level of intolerance toward opposing voices.

He noted that the IWA is a professional organization that has never demanded a share of power and therefore should not be treated as a political rival.

“Writers and thinkers have always written against censorship and advocated freedom of expression and those who hold power have always imposed censorship and confronted writers but at the present time the magnitude is unprecedented.”

Zarafshan continued: “The pressure on intellectuals and writers has increased so much that some have been questioned for being silent on certain issues.”


Three members of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA) who are facing immediate imprisonment in Iran talk with PEN Sydney president, Mark Isaacs

Mr Mark Isaacs‪: My name is Mark Isaacs, I’m a writer from Australia. I am the president of PEN Sydney, an associate of PEN International. I’ve been writing about conflict and displacement for close to a decade. My first book published was a whistleblower account of what happened in the Australian-run detention centre, or prison, for refugees on Nauru, which included Iranian refugees and since then I’ve traveled to Iran, Afghanistan and written a book on the peace movement in Afghanistan.

Mr Reza Khandan Mahabadi: I also send my greetings to you Mark and I do appreciate your attendance in this conversation. I am Reza Khandan. I’m a member of the Secretariats Board of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA). I am a writer, literature critic and I have had some research on popular culture. I have been a member of IWA for about 22 years, which is an independent organisation (I will explain its activities later). The IWA defends freedom of expression, writers’ rights and is against censorship.

Mr Baktash Abtin: I am happy too to participate in this meeting. I am Baktash Abtin. I’m a member of the Secretariats Board of IWA. I am a poet and filmmaker and have been a board member of IWA three times. I will talk about IWA’s activities later.

Mark Isaacs‪: Okay, “Salam-alaikom” to you both “khaily mokhlesim dadash” and it is a pleasure to be speaking to both of you, so thank you for giving me the opportunity. (Reza and Baktash were surprised by Mark’s Persian and laughed)

Reza Khandan Mahabadi: Since our legal case related to our activities in IWA, first I will provide an introduction about IWA. In this way, when we talk about our accusations, charges and sentences you will have a clear idea what we are talking about.

The IWA was established by some prominent writers against the censorship of the regime in 1968. The Shah’s regime introduced a law by which all the books must be over checked and approved before publishing. At the same time, the regime introduced some other measures in the print media arena and culture in general to impose more censorship.

In opposition to this, a number of progressive and well-known writers decided to publish a statement and this statement became the first step for establishing the IWA. The writers applied to register their organisation, but the Shah’s regime did not agree and about two years later some of their members were arrested. Finally, the regime put an end to the IWA’s activities after two years. In 1977, with the revolution in Iran, several IWA members became active and rejuvenated the organisation. These activities were continued until 1981 but again, the IWA’s activities were banned by the new regime. The activities were declared illegal. The IWA’s office was seized, several members were arrested and imprisoned, and once again IWA’s activities were banned.

In regards to IWA’s activities, I should explain that this is a professional and cultural organisation. On the professional front it defends the writer’s rights and on the cultural front it defends freedom of expression and is against censorship.

IWA was inactive for about a decade but despite many threats, it started to revitalise its activities. The pressure and danger were such that, during the Chain Political Murders in Iran in 1988, they murdered two IWA members. The IWA victims were four persons but the regime officially only admitted to the murder of two. This means the Intelligent Ministry admitted they killed just two of them. The IWA members have been under pressure all these years. In 1988, IWA members ran an election and elected a temporary board to restart its activities. Since then the Islamic Republic government has not allowed IWA to be active.

State censorship was increasing daily and it needed to be challenged. This meant Iranian writers had to do something. Since then IWA’s activities continued but of course “illegally”.  The regime put a lot of pressure on IWA members. The IWA has never been allowed to have an office and officially operate (except 2-3 years during the revolution). The IWA members have repeatedly been put under pressure and called upon by the intelligence and security organisations; four, five of its members are facing imprisonment or are in jail right now. Despite of all these pressures imposed on them by the state, a large number of writers remain members of IWA. For example, Ahmad Shamloo, who you might know. Despite all these pressures and intimidations, IWA is still active. IWA has a Facebook page and a channel on Telegram [social media mobile app which is popular in Iran]. IWA was publishing a periodical publication that was not allowed to continue. IWA issues statements on special occasions. These activities are still going on in this or another way.

I tried to paint a brief picture of the current situation of IWA and I hope I shed a bit of light on it. If Baktash thinks I missed something, I would be happy if he explains.

Baktash Abtin: It would be enough to add this, though Reza covered it: according to the Islamic Republic State, the IWA has always been an illegal organization. Therefore, its members, for their association with IWA, have been subjected to persecution and imprisonment and they will be under pressure. In addition, in Iran no media outlets are allowed to mention the IWA unless to offend, accuse or harass it. Now if you agree, please allow me to talk about Mr Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Mr Keyvan Bajan and my convictions, and also Mr Arash Ganji and other colleagues in IWA.

Mark Isaacs: Yes please, please.

Reza Khandan Mahabadi: Excuse me Baktash, before we address that, let me touch on an important issue. Is it okay?

Baktash Abtin: Yes please.

Reza Khandan Mahabadi: To address the importance of the IWA I have to mention that the censorship in Iran is so extensive that just yesterday Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran’s freedom of press 173 out of 180 countries around the word. The year before Iran’s ranking was 170. This year it dropped 3 places more. The IWA consider it a duty to be active to combat such a condition.

Mark Isaacs‪: Can you talk just a little bit more about the work both you do with the Iranian Writers Association but also your work more generally‪?

Baktash Abtin: I have published five poetry books and I have made more than ten feature and documentary films. But unfortunately for the past six years all my books have been banned from appearing in book exhibitions or bookstores. They did not allow the public to access my books nor my films to be screened. If the authorities were tipped off that a gathering was organised for me to read my poems or to screen my films, they would shoot the place down and, they do not allow the program to go ahead. This is not just limited to me, Mr Khandan who is here has the same situation.

Reza Khandan Mahabdi: I started my works in children’s literature about 40 years ago. At that time, 1978, I published a collection of children’s stories and a book on research and critique of children’s literature and several collections of children’s literature. I got arrested in 1981 for a while. I started a collection of writings called “Encyclopaedia of Fictions of People in Iran” with my colleague, Mr Ali Ashraf Darvishian in the late ‘80s, which was published in 19 volumes. I also published a collection of study and critique called “My Beloved Stories”, about selected short stories in Iran in the past 80 years, which was published in seven volumes. I also published a collection of stories called “The Solitaries” and of course many more essays and critiques like these. I said these to let you know I have been involved with censorship all these years. Like the other writers in Iran, I have been caught up with censorship without exception because the book must have permission from a government body for publication and this body sometimes changes the text or sometimes they do not give permission for publication. We have been caught up with censorship for many years, except for two to three years in 1977-1981 at the beginning of the revolution. All these years we have always been caught up with censorship, exclusion and elimination.

Mark Isaacs: Thank you for the information and I’m sorry to hear that you are under those kinds of restrictions. Can I ask what is exactly the opposition from the government to the IWA and the act of writing? Is it just the government or are there other groups involved that are in opposition to writers?

Reza Khandan Mahabdi: Specifically, and fundamentally, it is the government. There are no other groups, at least directly and publicly. This is the government that does not allow us to work. This is the government that we have to obtain permission for publishing books. The government, through organisations or bodies like the Intelligence Ministry, halts the activities of the IWA or any other independent organisation of writers. They summon us, they frame us with legal cases and imprison us. These are the problems we are facing directly. Of course, there are so called “cultural” newspapers like “Kayhan” that usually, with the posture of culture, attack the IWA or disseminate lies; or there are some writers who side with the government and occasionally attack the IWA, but fundamentally it is the government that has been against the IWA and does not allow us to work.

Mark Isaacs: Now I’d like to hear about your cases.


Baktash Abtin: The security forces attacked my house in April-May 2015 and confiscated more than 1000 of my poems. After a while, the same thing happened to Mr Reza Khandan Mahabdi and Keyvan Bajan. Later, they took us to the Culture and Media Court Subdivision 2 and we were charged. We were charged with printing illegal publications and propaganda against the state. I want to mention now that they opened two more cases against me and I was persecuted a lot. I do not include them here to prevent any mix up with this case. Our cases from the Culture and Media Court were transferred to the court in Evin prison. This time they charged us with other accusations including “propaganda against the state”, “assembly and collusion against national security”, “encouraging women to immorality or prostitution” and some baseless accusations. The latter was so ridiculous, even for the authorities, that it was removed from our cases. Then they referred us to the court and in the first trial the verdict was 6 years imprisonment. In the court we asked the judge to allow us to use our basic rights in order for our lawyer be present in the court and read the case because they did not pass on the case to our lawyer. But the judge aggressively, which is his usual attitude, did not accept our request; and since we insisted on our request, we refused to be charged officially and refused the judge to proceed with the trial, we were transferred to the Evin prison.


[In the Iranian courts, the judge reads the charges first and then the accused must sign the paper accepting they heard the charges. After that the court can start, but since their lawyers were not in the court, Reza, Baktash and Keyvan did not sign the paperwork. Therefore, they did not allow the judge to charge them officially. And the judge sent them directly to Evin prison.]


The judge then increased our bail amount from 100 million Toman to one billion Toman. Finally, in the court of appeal, Mr Khandan and my verdicts remained the same, 6 years imprisonments, but my colleague Mr Bazhan’s verdict was reduced to three years imprisonment. In March 2020, even though the Covid-19 virus was spreading all over the world, we were called to go prison to serve our sentences; because of Covid-19 we did not go to jail and now it’s unclear when they will come to arrest us and take us to prison. All this happened because we are members of the IWA, working for freedom of expression and against censorship. I do not have anything to add. If I missed something I would like Reza to cover it.


Reza Khandan Mahabadi: Just to highlight two points, when it is mentioned, five years ago they came to our homes and took our notes, handwriting, writings and films, it is important to clarify for Mark who they were and what organisation they belonged to. They were officials from the Ministry of Intelligence. The second point is we did not go to the Court of Culture and Media. This court gave the summons to the Ministry of Intelligence. They charged us after the interrogation in the Evin Security Court. The authorities in Iran label political prisoners as security prisoners.  It is necessary to know what their reasons were for those charges against us. I will explain the reasons one by one. The IWA has always issued statements according to its charter in regards to social events. The Iranian authorities used these statements to charge us for “propaganda against the state”. Ten members of IWA, two years ago, compiled a book about the history of IWA on its 50th anniversary. A small number of this book was published but the Ministry of Intelligence seized the books. This book was also used as evidence for “propaganda against the state”. For the mouthful charge of “assembly and collusion against national security”, the authorities imply the gathering of the IWA members on the graves of Ahmad Shamloo (renowned poet), Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh (two members of IWA who the intelligence service murdered in 1988). Their families, friends and IWA members have gathered every year on their graves to commemorate them, though the authorities have never allowed the gathering. These gatherings were used against us as “assembly and collusion against national security”. Another reason was the publishing of an internal publication. The IWA has an internal publication for its members. For the past 3-4 years we published around 200 copies. This publication was another reason for “propaganda against the state”. These so-called reasons to prove the charges, in fact, are not considered to incriminate anyone: to publish a magazine, to go to a graveyard to commemorate your fellow writers, and compiling a book. But the interrogators and judges use these accusations like “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” to impose heavy penalties. Right now, by employing such accusations which have nothing to do with the reasons, they have imposed six years jail terms for Baktash and I and three years for Keyvan. I do not have any more explanations unless you have any other specific questions.


[Mark asked Reza and Baktash to explain a little bit more about the Chain Killings of the IWA members but the telephone line was disrupted and when it reconnected the conversation continued about mutual relationship between the IWA and the PEN centres in Australia and how PEN centres can support writers in Iran.]


Reza Khandan Mahabdi: Look, we the people in the literature sector all around the world should look after each other and I personally am surprised that the PEN associations in other countries either do not know about the IWA with its 50 years history or they know a little about us and the IWA’s activities. The priority for all the similar associations around the world is to look after each other. And about our legal cases, of course it is natural we believe these sentences are cruel. These sentences and accusations fundamentally have nothing to do with our activities. We expect PEN associations’ and public opinion’s pressure and campaigns will help revoke these sentences. We do not fear to pay a price for freedom of expression and we are aware that promoting freedom of expression in a place like Iran has a price to pay. But it does not mean we accept such an unjust verdict voluntarily. We expect all writers around the world to pay attention to this issue and to not allow writers to go to jail very easily.


Mark Isaacs‪: I could not agree more‪, I am grateful I have the opportunity to try and assist you.


Reza Khandan Mahabadi: And the question of how and in what ways to assist, I believe you have the knowledge of how to put pressure on the Iranian Government and its Judicial Ministry, which not only executes these sentences but cancels them too. This would be a victory for freedom of expression. This is to defend freedom of expression, not just three of us. This is to defend freedom and the right to have freedom of expression in this country and all around the world. In addition, we expect the relationship between the IWA and PEN associations in Australia and other places to continue, and to have more cooperation and to know each other better. I do not have anything else to add for now.


Baktash Abtin: My colleague’s words were good enough, but I’d like to add that freedom has never been gifted to anyone on a gold-wrapped plate. We ought to pay a heavy price for it. In countries like ours, where a dictatorship is ruling, while we are fighting for freedom of expression and against censorship, to obtain our natural rights seems more difficult. In a country like Iran, death is very cheap for intellectuals, freedom loving people and those who fight for freedom of expression. As my friend Reza Khandan said, we are not worried to face trials, to go to prison and endure sufferings, because we have made up our minds. While they ran the Chain Murders in 1988, or they tried to divert the full bus load of IWA members into a valley and portray it as an accident in 1996; if they have any opportunities, they will terminate us one by one. We, with complete knowledge of the risks, will emphasise our defined obligation, which is to fight for freedom of expression and against censorship. But we expect all our friends, writers, intellectuals and those who fight for freedom of expression around the world to support us, especially while they do not have a similar horrible situation like us. Your support is not for a couple of names, your support is about supporting a series of existences and making a stand, otherwise we would come and go. And, as I said, in third world countries, death is very cheap and suffering widely available. Therefore, we expect our friends to support us and our freedom. Thanks.


Mark Isaacs‪: Thank you guys‪, I really appreciate that you have given me the opportunity to speak with you‪, hear your stories‪. I do not think I have any more questions. I think you have covered everything I wanted to speak about, but I can assure you that Sydney PEN would like to engage in communication with you‪, with the IWA, and continue the dialogue and we will definitely support and promote a campaign in PEN International for your cases. It is a pleasure to speak with you‪.


Baktash Abtin: Thank you very much for your time to have such a constructive conversation.


Reza Khandan mahabadi: Thank you as well for this conversation. I hope we have conversations like this again and more often. Thanks for your time.





11 Nov at The Wheeler Centre: Maria Ressa : Freedom and Fakery in the Philippines Today

Maria Ressa is a veteran investigative journalist and the CEO of the influential Philippine news portal Rappler. In June this year, she and a colleague were found guilty of cyberlibel, in a dubious court decision that many believe was politically motivated.
Ressa has been a dogged and long-time critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, and of his supporters. The relationship between Ressa, as a journalist, and Duterte, as a political figure, dates back to the 1980s, but after Duterte’s election in 2016, Rappler ran a series of stories about his active online ‘troll army’ and the fake news stories they were circulating, and earned the ire of the Duterte administration.
In the lead-up to the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, we’ll present the indomitable Ressa in conversation with Fatima Measham, with an introduction by PEN Sydney president Mark Isaacs. Ressa will discuss technology’s impact on democracy and the implications of her own case for freedom of speech today.
Bookings can be made at the Wheeler Centre website:
Presented in partnership with PEN Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and the Copyright Agency. Help support PEN’s campaigns to defend persecuted and imprisoned writers.


Philippines: Maria Ressa sentence a threat to media freedom

The sentence served today, 15 June, against journalist and writer Maria Ressa, is a severe blow to freedom of expression in the Philippines, said PEN International. The ruling “undermines the already dwindling democratic space in which free media and civil society operate,” said The Philippine PEN.

Maria Ressa was sentenced by the Manila Regional Court to a prison term of between six months to six years on charges of ‘cybercrime’ for an article published on the on-line news platform Rappler in 2012. The article alleged corruption between a businessman and a judge. Ressa was convicted alongside her colleague a former researcher and writer, Reynaldo Santos Jr, under the Cybercrimes Prevention Act that was enacted in September 2012, several months after the article was published, and applied retroactively. Both Ressa and Santos are free on bail awaiting appeal.

Maria Ressa is one of the Philippines’ most well-known free speech advocates, having set up Rappler with three other women journalists in 2012. It soon became a source of exposés of corruption and human rights abuses, including the execution of thousands of Filipinos in the war against drugs. Ressa faces other libel cases, as well as criminal investigations into allegedly illegal foreign ownership of her companies and investigations into tax returns. Altogether these charges, believed to be politically motivated, could lead to around 100 years in prison. Maria Ressa was named a TIME person of the year in 2018 and spoke at the Global Conference for Media Freedom organised by the Canadian and British Governments in the UK in 2019. She is the author of two books on the rise of terrorism in Southeast Asia.

“Maria Ressa is a brave journalist who has reported fearlessly from across Southeast Asia during tumultuous times,” writes Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

“To convict her on grounds of criminal libel years after the incident during a pandemic is nothing but another cowardly way the authorities are seeking to intimidate media freedom in the Philippines. That Maria and her former colleague Reynaldo can appeal is a matter of comfort. That she is being tried at all shows the distance the Philippines has travelled from the promise of democracy that was born with the end of the Martial Law. We were privileged when she spoke to the Assembly of Delegates at the PEN Congress in Manila in 2019, when she spoke eloquently about the need to remain vigilant in defending our freedoms. We are dismayed by the verdict against one of the truly courageous journalists of our time and urge the Philippines to change its law which threatens the media and take immediate steps to stop the persecution of Maria and her colleague Reynaldo.”

The Philippine PEN Centre released the following statement:


The Philippine Center of PEN International expresses its gravest concern over the recent conviction of journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel for a 2012 article. Questions of constitutionality aside, this action further undermines the already dwindling democratic space in which free media and civil society operate.

This verdict cannot be seen as separate from the pattern of escalating threats and intimidation against Ms. Ressa and other media entities since 2016, for reportage that the present administration has found objectionable.

In solidarity with PEN International, the Philippine PEN stands by the principles of free expression and the unhampered flow of critical information.

We urge all citizens to uphold their right to free speech and equal protection under the law, and for all governments to protect these rights at all times.

For more information, please contact Sara Whyatt, Asia Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: