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PEN Network Welcomes Release of Iranian Writers Arash Ganji and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Calls for Release of Other Members of the Iranian Writers’ Association

February 28, 2023 IN WIP
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PEN Network Welcomes Release of Iranian Writers Arash Ganji and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Calls for Release of Other Members of the Iranian Writers’ Association

More than 35 PEN Centers Worldwide Call On Iranian Authorities to End Campaign Against the IWA


(NEW YORK) — PEN International, PEN America, and 35 other Centers in the PEN literary and free expression network today released a joint statement, celebrating the release of writers Arash Ganji and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and calling on authorities to end their sustained campaign against the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA), a leading voice in Iran against state censorship, and to release remaining IWA members from jail.

The statement said:

“We welcome the news that writers Arash Ganji and Reza Khandan Mahabadi have been released from prison; no one should be jailed for the purported “crimes” of writing, translating a book, or advocating against censorship. Furthermore, we are relieved that pending legal charges against other members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA), including a spurious trial for Aida Amidi that was slated to start on February 19, have been halted. For decades, the IWA has been at the forefront of advocating for freedom of expression and fighting against state censorship, and have faced enduring government harassment as a result. We view the concerted campaign of repression against writers affiliated with the IWA as an attack on the organization as a whole, intended to shutter it as an essential voice representing civil society and the literary community in Iran.

As members of the global PEN network, we call for the Iranian authorities to cease harassing and investigating members of the IWA, to unconditionally drop all politically-motivated charges against these writers, and to release Ali Asadollahi and Keyvan Mohtadi from jail. Additionally, we stand in solidarity with all writers in Iran and call for an end to the severe and protracted government crackdown on writers and the entire creative sector–in which pre-emptive detentions have been accompanied in many cases by denial of access to family members and legal counsel, harsh interrogation techniques, abuse in custody, and medical neglect. We call for all writers jailed for their peaceful expression and words to be freed immediately and unconditionally, and for the international community and multilateral institutions such as the United Nations to pay special attention to the targeting of writers and the creative community in Iran.”

Ganji, a writer, translator, and former secretary of the IWA, was arrested in December 2019 and detained for almost a month; in December 2020, he was sentenced to a total of 11 years in prison on national security charges for his translation of a book about the role of Kurds in Syria’s civil war, and started serving the sentence in October 2021 after his legal appeal failed. He was released unexpectedly from Rajaeeshahr prison on 11 February 2023 without conditions as part of a broader set of amnesties granted by the government. Reza Khandan Mahabadi, a writer, scholar, IWA board member, and a PEN America 2021 Freedom to Write Award co-honoree, was handed down a six-year prison term in 2019 and has been in jail (with a brief period of release on medical parole) since October 2020, until his unconditional release on February 15, 2023 from Karaj Prison. PEN America and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR) had filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on these two cases, alongside 2 other IWA colleagues; in its ruling, the UN found that their detention was unjust and violated their human rights and international law, and ordered that Ganji and Khandan Mahabadi be immediately released.

Writer, translator, labor activist, and IWA member Keyvan Mohtadi, detained in May 2022, is currently serving a six-year prison term. Ali Asadollahi, a poet and the current IWA secretary, was arrested in November and after spending 31 days in solitary confinement, he was transferred to Fashafouyeh (Greater Tehran) prison. He remains detained there without charge and his arrest order has not been legally extended since December, though his case has recently been assigned to a judge known for handing down harsh sentences.

Poets Alireza Adineh, Aida Amidi, and Roozbeh Sohani were arrested in early December and released on bail in early January, but faced pending charges; Amidi’s trial was slated to begin on February 19 but the legal process has now been put on hiatus. Other IWA members have been arrested and released or are serving suspended sentences, including Atefeh Charmahalian, a poet and former board member who was arrested in October and sentenced to 2 years and 8 months in prison, and is now freed on bail with a suspended sentence. Anisha Asadollahi (Ali Asadollahi’s sister), arrested alongside her husband Keyvan Mohtadi in May, was released on bail in August but still faces possible charges and was summoned back to court just last week.

PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index shows that Iran jailed the fourth highest number of writers and public intellectuals in the world. In 2022, arrests of writers and other artists have spiked dramatically. More about PEN America’s advocacy work on Iran can be found here.

Centers signing on:

PEN International

PEN Afghanistan

PEN America

PEN Armãn

PEN Armenia

PEN Bangladesh

PEN Belarus

PEN Cambodia

PEN Canada

PEN Chile

Croatian PEN

Danish PEN

English PEN

French PEN

PEN Germany

Independent Chinese PEN Center

Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann

PEN Jordan

Kurdish PEN

PEN Malta

PEN Melbourne

PEN Myanmar

San Miguel PEN

PEN Netherlands

PEN Québec

PEN Romania

Serbian PEN

PEN Sierra Leone

PEN Slovenia

PEN Swiss-Romand

Swedish PEN

PEN Sydney

PEN Trieste

PEN Türkiye

PEN Uganda

PEN Vietnam Overseas

Wales PEN Cymru

Contact at PEN America: Suzanne Trimel,, 201-247-5057

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International