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Iran: COVID-19 fears for detained human rights defender and writer Narges Mohammadi

Tuesday 21 July 2020 - 12:12pm

Narges Mohammadi, released from jail in Iran after international protests

Update - 22 July 2020

16 United Nations experts have called for the immediate release of Narges Mohammadi, stressing the risk Mohammadi faces if she contracts COVID-19.

Update #4 to RAN 08/2018

PEN International is alarmed by reports that writer, journalist and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi may have contracted COVID-19 in Zanjan prison where she is serving sentences totalling 16 years for her rights activism. She suffers from underlying health conditions for which she has been denied adequate treatment, further increasing concerns for her welfare.

PEN International reiterates its calls on the Iranian authorities for the immediate and unconditional release of Narges Mohammadi, and demands that she is granted full access to all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency.

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Please send appeals:

· Expressing serious concern for the health of Narges Mohammadi, urging the authorities to permit her access to all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency;

· Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Narges Mohammadi and all those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression;

· Demanding a full investigation into reports that Mohammadi is being ill-treated and denied adequate medical care in prison.

Send appeals to:

Leader of the Islamic Republic

Grand Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei

The Office of the Supreme Leader Islamic Republic Street

End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran Email:

Twitter: @khamenei_ir (English-language account), @Khamenei_ar

(Arabic-language), @Khamenei_es (Spanish-language account).

Head of the Judiciary

Ebrahim Raisi c/o Public Relations Office

Number 4, Deadend of 1 Azizi – Vali Asr Street Tehran,

Islamic Republic of Iran

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Hassan Rouhani Pasteur Street,

Pasteur Square Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran


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

And copy to the Embassy of Iran in your country. You can find embassy addresses here.

** Please keep us informed of any action you take in regard to Narges Mohammadi’s case, including any responses you receive from the authorities.


Narges Mohammadi is an Iranian writer, journalist and human rights defender, and Honorary Member of Danish, Belgian, Norwegian and Swedish PEN. She is the former Vice-President and spokesperson of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), which advocates for human rights reform and represents political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in legal proceedings. She is serving a total of 16 years in prison on for ‘gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security’, ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘founding and running an illegal organisation’ for her work with the Campaign for Step by Step Abolition of the Death Penalty, known by its Persian acronym, Legam.

Mohammadi was imprisoned at Evin Prison in May 2015 where she was held until December 2019 when she was transferred to Zanjan Prison, some 300 km from Tehran, after she had staged protests against prison conditions and the killings of hundreds of protestors who were demonstrating against gas price rises in November 2019. She suffered bruising and other injuries while being transferred, described by Amnesty International as having been violent and a punishment for her prison activism.

On 22 February 2020, she was served with further charges for these prison protests on accusation of ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘assembly and collusion with intent to take action against national security’. Evidence against her reportedly includes staging sit-ins, conducting educational classes and ‘defaming’ the governor of Evin prison by asserting that that prison guards had used verbal abuse, death threats and beatings against inmates. She faces an additional five years in prison and 74 lashes.

Mohammadi suffers from a neurological disorder that can result in seizures, temporary partial paralysis, and a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in her lung for which she is said to be denied essential medication that could prevent further clots forming. In May 2019 she underwent an emergency hysterectomy after which she was returned to Evin Prison. In June 2019, PEN received reports that Narges Mohammadi was being denied adequate medical care and antibiotics to treat a subsequent infection resulting from the surgery.

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Iran, its spread in prisons became a key concern and led in March 2020 to the release on furlough of over 85,000 prisoners. However, many political prisoners, including Mohammadi, remain imprisoned. Then on 13 July, in a letter from prison published by her family, she describes suffering COVID-19 symptoms, adding that other inmates had also contracted the virus. After pressure from her family, Mohammadi was given a COVID test on 8 July but the authorities have reportedly refused to disclose the results.

Narges Mohammadi has written for various reformist journals, among these Payam-e Hajar which was later banned for its articles promoting the rights of all, regardless of gender, religious or political affiliation. She is the author of political essays, including Reforms, strategy and tactics. She is married to the prominent journalist Taghi Rahmani, who spent a total of 17 years in prison then fled Iran for France in May 2011 where he now lives in exile with the couple’s teenage twins. Mohammadi has been denied telephone calls from her children for over a year.

Narges Mohammadi was an awardee of the 2013 PEN/Oxfam Novib Free Expression Award.

For previous actions by PEN International on the case 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. 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 in light of the COVID-19 outbreak 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: