PEN International © 2017
Terms & Conditions | Privacy Statement

Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Mahvash Sabet

Monday 10 November 2014 - 12:00am

Updated logo

Islamic Republic of Iran

Mahvash Sabet
Teacher and poet

“Beyond those gates, another world, another race,
a people poisoned and oppressed by woe;
they stared wearily at us, the prisoners we faced,
with sunken eyes, lack-lustre, circled with sorrow”

– extract from ‘From Evin to Raja’I Shah’ in Prison Poems, published in English on 1 April 2013

Mahvash_SabetTeacher and poet Mahvash Sabet is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in Evin prison, Tehran. She is one of a group of seven Baha’i leaders known as the “Yaran-i-Iran” – “Friends of Iran” – who have been detained since 2008 for their faith and activities related to running the affairs of the Bahá’í community in Iran. Mahvash Sabet began writing poetry in prison, and a collection of her prison poems was published in English translation on 1 April 2013. PEN International is calling on the Iranian authorities to release Mahvash Sabet and all other writers imprisoned in Iran solely for exercising their right to legitimate freedom of expression.

The Baha’i community in Iran has been the focus of a systematic, state-sponsored persecution since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. After the revolution, the “Yaran-i-Iran” – “Friends of Iran” - was formed with the full knowledge of the government and served as an informal council for the Baha’i in Iran, working to support the spiritual and social needs of Iran’s 300,000-member Baha’i community, until its entire membership was arrested in 2008. Teacher and poet Mahvash Sabet was arrested on 5 March 2008 while on a trip to Mashhad. The other six members of the group - Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm - were arrested on 14 May 2008 at their homes in Tehran. All were imprisoned without charge until January 2010, during which they were held incommunicado for weeks and were not allowed access to legal counsel. All suffered appalling treatment and deprivations during pre-trial detention.

Charged with espionage, propaganda against the Islamic republic, the establishment of an illegal administration, cooperation with Israel, sending secret documents outside the country, acting against the security of the country, and corruption on earth, their trial began on 12 January 2010. On 14 June 2010 each of the defendants was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, after six brief court sessions characterised by their lack of due legal process. Their sentences were later reduced to 10 years each when an appeals court revoked three of the charges; however, in March 2011, the prisoners were informed of the reinstatement of their original sentences. They have never received official copies of the original verdict or the ruling on appeal despite repeated requests.

Mahvash Sabet, now aged 62, began her professional career as a teacher and worked as a principle at several schools. She also collaborated with the National Literacy Committee of Iran. Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Sabet was fired from her job and blocked from working in public education, like thousands of other Iranian Baha’i educators. She served for 15 years as director of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, which provides alternative higher education for Baha’i youth. She began writing poetry while in prison, a collection of which was published in English translation on 1 April 2013. Her poems are described as ‘sometimes a means of historical documentation…; sometimes a series of portraits of other women trapped in prison with her; sometimes meditations on powerlessness, on loneliness’…. She is married and has two grown children.

"My first encounter with Mahvash Sabet took place on a hot summer’s day. After many hours of tedious waiting in a special room set aside for lawyers, I was finally allowed to meet her in the presence of two women guards . . . it was obvious that the Baha'i prisoners had been deprived of fresh air and daylight for a long time; their entire beings seemed thirsty for the energizing heat and light of the sun. However, despite all their hardships, their will remained unbroken."  Mahnaz Parakand, Member of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders and one of the four lawyers for the Yaran.

Please send appeals:

  • Welcoming the initial steps taken by President Rouhani’s government to improve the state of freedom of expression in Iran;
  • Calling on the Iranian authorities to take further steps to demonstrate their commitment to reform by releasing Mahvash Sabet and all other writers currently imprisoned in Iran solely for exercising their right to legitimate freedom of expression;
  • Urging that further measures be taken to fully enshrine the right to freedom of expression in law and practice in Iran as provided for under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Iran is a state party;

Send appeals to:

Leader of the Islamic RepublicAyatollah Sayed ‘Ali KhameneiThe Office of the Supreme LeaderIslamic Republic Street – End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street,

Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Salutation: Your Excellency


Twitter: @khamenei_ir

PresidentHassan RouhaniOffice of the PresidencyPasteur Square,

Pasteur Street,

Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Salutation: Your Excellency

Twitter: @HassanRouhani


And copies to:Secretary General, High Council for Human RightsMohammed Javad Larijani c/o Office of the Head of the JudiciaryPasteur St, Vali Asr Ave

South of Serah-e Jomhouri, Tehran,

Islamic Republic of Iran

Email: (Subject line: FAO Mohammad Javad Larijani)


It is recommended that you send a copy of your appeals via the diplomatic representative for Iran in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here


Social Media: Please use the hashtag #ImprisonedWriter

Suggested tweet: #Iran Release teacher & poet Mavash Sabet, serving a 20-year prison sentence since 2008 #ImprisonedWriter @pen_int


PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the situation about freedom of expression in Iran.
  • Organise public events, stage readings, press conferences or demonstrations.
  • Share information about Iran and your campaigning activities for Mahvash Sabet via social media


  • Elect Mahvash Sabet as an Honorary Member of your Centre and by doing so provide long term support and advocacy for her and her family. For details of the PEN International Honorary Membership scheme, read the PEN WiPC Guide to Defending Writers Under Attack  (Part V, pgs 15-20). Please let us know if you do so and we will ensure that your Centre is networked with others working on the case.

Please let us know about your activities and send us a report about them by 15 December 2014 so that we can share them with other Centres.

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: