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Iran: Authorities must release writer and poet Mahvash Sabet and end its crackdown on the Baha’i community in Iran

Monday 15 August 2022 - 2:51pm

Iran: Authorities must release writer and poet Mahvash Sabet and end its crackdown on the Baha’i community in Iran

PEN International and PEN Centres strongly condemn the arrest of Baha’i writer and poet Mahvash Sabet by the Iranian authorities and call for her immediate and unconditional release. PEN International and PEN Centres raise serious concerns over Sabet’s health amid the continued prevalence of Covid-19 infections in prisons and deliberate medical negligence by the Iranian authorities.

On 31 July, Iranian authorities arrested Mahvash Sabet and two other members of the long-disbanded “Yaran-i-Iran” or “Friends of Iran,” Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, who helped to administer Baha’i community’s affairs in Iran until 2008, over unfounded “spying” charges. The authorities have sent Sabet to Evin prison in Iran, where she was previously imprisoned.

According to media sources, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry alleged they were linked to the Baha’i centre in Israel and had collected and transferred information there. The Baha’i World Centre, the spiritual and administrative heart of the Bahá’í community, is located in the twin cities of ‘Akká and Haifa in Israel. The Baha’i presence has existed since before the founding of the state of Israel: nevertheless, the Iranian authorities have long used unfounded “spying” allegations against the Baha’i community in Iran.

Their arrests come amid a vicious crackdown on the Baha’i people in Iran, where authorities arrested several Baha’i activists, closed down dozens of Baha'i businesses, and demolished their houses.

Mahvash Sabet is a teacher and prominent poet who spent a decade in arbitrary imprisonment due to her religious beliefs. Sabet began her professional career as a teacher and worked as a principal 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 in prison, and a collection of her prison poems was published in English translation in 2013. Sabet is an honorary member of Austrian PEN and Danish PEN, and was awarded the 2017 PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage. PEN International has campaigned for her release and featured her case in PEN’s 2014 Day of the Imprisoned Writer campaign.

Signing PEN Centres:

Dansk PEN

English PEN

Irish PEN

PEN America

PEN Melbourne

PEN Norway

Swedish PEN

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

Note to editors:

PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088