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Iran: Poets and writers arrested in new crackdown

Friday 23 December 2016 - 12:00am

29 December 2016 - Update

Raouf Delfi, Sayed Hasan Mousavi and Arash Ghalehgolab are all reported to have been released on bail.

22 December 2016 - The recent arrest of poets and other writers in Tehran and Abadan are a worrying sign that a fresh crackdown on cultural figures in Iran is underway, PEN International said today. The organisation called for all detained writers to be protected from torture or other ill-treatment and to be released unless they are charged and tried promptly in accordance with international fair trial standards.

Poet and actor Raouf Delfi and journalist, theatre critic and actor Sayed Hasan Mousavi (known as Sayed Blood) were arrested in Abadan on 13 December 2016. Their whereabouts and the reason for their arrest remain unknown. A week later, on 21 December 2016, Arash Ghalehgolab, a journalist and satirist, was reportedly detained after being summoned to a revolutionary court in the city. The same report said that he was accused of links to a poet and journalist outside Iran, giving interviews to foreign media about two other detained artists, believed to be Delfi and Mousavi.

We are deeply worried about reports of the arrest of poets and cultural figures in Iran, the latest in a spate of detentions of individuals in relation to their work or linked to their desire to commemorate their murdered comrades,’ said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘Credible reports show that that torture and other ill-treatment is rife in Iranian detention facilities, particularly in the first days after arrest. These writers must be protected from all forms of ill-treatment, and released unless they are to be charged with a criminal offence which meets international standards of legality, necessity, and proportionality.’

The arrest of the three follows an attack on members of the Writers Association of Iran at a commemoration event for victims of what is known as the ‘chain murders’ of dissident writers in the 1990s by Iranian intelligence agents. At least five were arrested during the attack, including Baktash Abtin, a senior member of the Association, and poet Mohamed Mehdipour. All are believed to have been released later.

Earlier, in October 2016, writer Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee was jailed for six years for ‘insulting the holy sanctities’ and ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ in connection with an unpublished novel critical of the practice of stoning, as well as some Facebook posts expressing support for exiled rapper Shahin Najafi. The manuscript had been seized after agents raided her home following her arrest in September 2014 alongside her activist husband Arash Sadeghi in their stationery shop.  He began serving a 15-year prison sentence in June 2016 in connection with the same case. Film director Keywan Karimi began serving a one-year prison sentence on 23 November 2016 after conviction of ‘insulting the holy sanctities’, ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘illegitimate relations’, believed to be in connection with a music clip made for Shahin Najafi.

Iran has a wonderfully vibrant culture of poetry, music and film.  The authorities should be celebrating the artistic achievements of its artists and helping to showcase them to the world, not locking them up for their creativity,’ said Tripathi.

Writers, journalists, musicians, and artists in Iran face harassment, threats or arrest for their expression. In 2015, Iran accounted for 30 per cent of all cases on the Middle East and North Africa section of PEN International’s Case List. Of the 61 writers listed, 16 were in prison, while a further eight were detained, held solely for their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Among this number are writer and poet Arzhang Davoodi and author Hesameddin Farzizadeh, both sentenced to death in separate cases in connection with their freedom of expression.

For further information, please contact Ann Harrison, Director of the Freedom to Write Programme,,  t. +44 (0)20 7405 0338 |Twitter: @pen_int | Facebook: |