In a September press release, PEN America announced as recipients of the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, three imprisoned Iranian writers and free expression advocates who are centrally involved in the anti-censorship group Iranian Writers Association (IWA)—celebrated poet, screenwriter, and filmmaker Baktash Abtin; novelist and journalist Keyvan Bajan; and author, literary critic, and popular culture researcher Reza Khandan Mahabadi. The honorees are serving a collective 15.5 years in prison following a crackdown on members of the organization.
PEN's global advocacy campaign calling for the honorees’ freedom will be highlighted at 2021’s PEN America Literary Gala, October 5, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
In a letter signed by prominent writers and artists, including Ariel Dorfman, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Khaled Hosseini, nobel laureates JM Coetzee and Orhan Pamuk, actors Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, cartoonist Art Spiegelman and hundreds of others, PEN stands with Iran's imprisoned writers:
“We call on you, President Raisi, to end the unjust imprisonments of Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and to release all those jailed in Iran for exercising their freedom to write,”
Watch the Livestream of this event marking the publication by Grove Atlantic of the 60th anniversary edition of Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth at youtube.com/revolutionbooks1 or Facebook.com/revbooksnyc.
This Revolution Books program, produced in partnership with the Brooklyn Book Festival, will feature scholar-activist Cornel West, who wrote the introduction for this new edition of the book, in conversation with Andy Zee of Revolution Books and The RNL—Revolution Nothing Less—Show.
It was with great shock and sadness that we in the International Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners learned that Mehri Jafari had been lost while descending the 24,400-foot Peak Pobeda in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan and is presumed to have died.
This is a terrible loss for the people, and we offer our deepest condolences to her family, friends, colleagues, and all who fight for a better world.
Mehri Jafari was a dual British-Iranian citizen living in London, an attorney, a poet, and a human rights activist – “championing the rights of #women, #children and #LGBTQ,” as she wrote on her Twitter page. I had the pleasure and good fortune of meeting and working with her by phone earlier this year. Already a member of the campaign supporting political prisoner Mehran Raouf, she quickly signed the Campaign’s Emergency Appeal and promoted it on social media. She was one of its earliest endorsers.
Mehri was a warm, helpful and engaged person, ready to do what she could for this vital cause, including press interviews and outreach to friends and colleagues. She had a deep understanding of the crucial importance of active, vocal support for political prisoners, telling Iran Wire (Feb 8, 2021), "When a social activist is in detention, the silence of the wider community provides the conditions for his or her repression, and he or she may be left at risk of harsh interrogation, forced confessions and torture." This was something we learned from and promoted.
Mehri was also committed to exposing and stopping the nightmare of honor-related crimes against women in Iran and the Iranian community, and worked closely with Kurdish, Afghan, and other activists.
Mehri was a highly accomplished mountaineer, and as an avid hiker I share her love of the mountains – the challenges they present and the awesome beauty and vistas they offer – and appreciate her seeing in climbing a way to break out of the suffocation of today’s world and struggle to ascend to something higher and better. Let us all remember Mehri, by dedicating ourselves to that daunting, but exhilarating climb to a brighter, liberating future.
Larry Everest, on behalf of the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners
From August 11 to 13, the trial of Hamid Nouri began in Stockholm, Sweden, for his role in the massacre of as at least 5,000 political prisoners in 1988 when he was an assistant to a prosecutor at Iran’s Gohardasht Prison in Iran. The trial started just days after the inauguration of Ebrahim Raisi as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Raisi was a member of the “death commission” in 1988, and this trial is implicitly about his role in those massacres.
Activists with Burn the Cage movement in Europe joined the protests in front of the Stockholm courthouse. They made a gigantic printout of the Emergency Appeal as published in the current Summer issue of the New York Review of Books. The Mothers of Khavaran, some of whom are family members of the victims of the 1988 massacre, brought posters of their lost loved ones to display in front of the courthouse.
August 5 (coinciding with Raisi's inauguration) that was called against the Islamic Republic shooting down of Ukrainian Airliner flight 752 in January 2020, Burn the Cage activists made a poster with the printout of the Emergency Appeal as published in the current Summer issue of The New York Review of Books. The poster said “1988 Massacre of Political Prisoners ordered by death commission that Ebrahim Raisi was key member of. We must not allow this to happen again!”
These are examples of what everyone can do in spreading the ad of the Emergency Appeal – taking it into protests and amplifying its impact at the grassroots. Send our campaign photos and reports of such actions in your area.
The upcoming trial of a former assistant prosecutor in Iran, Hamid Nouri, in a Swedish court on charges of committing war crimes and murder for the executions of thousands of prisoners in Iran during the 1980s, is a historic opportunity for Iranian families who have been seeking justice for more than 30 years, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said today.
The determined pursuit of this case by the Swedish judicial authorities can open a new chapter in the Iranian people’s justice-seeking movement, and finally shed light on the extrajudicial massacre of some 5000 political prisoners by the Iranian authorities at that time.
“Putting one of the officials responsible for the mass killings of political prisoners in 1988 on trial in a foreign country is an extraordinary occasion for the international community to examine the crimes against humanity committed in Iran at that time,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI’s executive director.
Witnesses Have Identified Nouri, Who Worked Closely with President Elect Ebrahim Raisi
The statement from Swedish public prosecutors Kristina Lindhoff Carleson and Martina Winslow, accusing Nouri of “intentionally killing, together with other perpetrators, a large number of prisoners who sympathized with various left-wing groups and who were regarded as apostates,” has been a source of encouragement for families who have been ignored or persecuted by the Iranian authorities for seeking justice.
CHRI considers Nouri’s trial an unprecedented opportunity to reveal long-hidden aspects of gross human rights violations that were committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The international community, and especially human rights organizations, should consider this a vital chance to access facts about the 1988 massacre.
Witnesses Have Identified Nouri, Who Worked Closely with President Elect Ebrahim Raisi
Nouri was arrested on November 9, 2019, as he arrived at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport to visit relatives, and was held on suspicion of committing mass murder in Iran. His detention order was extended for 20 months to give prosecutors time to build their case.
Witnesses have come forward to identify Nouri as an assistant prosecutor in Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran, during the mass execution of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.
According to Iraj Mesdaghi, a former political prisoner and eyewitness at Gohardasht, Nouri worked closely with current President Ebrahim Raisi and former Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi. In 1988, Raisi and Pourmohammadi were members of a “death committee” that ordered the execution of the approximately 5000 political prisoners, all of whom had already been issued and were serving their prison sentences.
The committee, appointed by the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, included Raisi, who was then deputy prosecutor of Tehran; Pourmohammadi, an Intelligence Ministry representative at the time; Morteza Eshraghi, Tehran Prosecutor at the time, and Hossein Ali Nayeri, then the religious judge at Evin Prison and now a high court judge.
Iranian authorities have remained largely silent on Nouri’s case ever since his arrest, and have not commented on his indictment.
The victims’ families, especially the group known as Mothers of Khavaran, have kept the memory of the tragedy alive with annual vigils at the Khavaran Cemetery in south Tehran, where many of the victims were buried in mass graves. Families have been harassed and persecuted by the Iranian authorities for trying to find information about their murdered relatives.
Rough translation of Kanun Hannover Facebook post.
The people of Susangard* demanded freedom for prisoners, shouting (in Arabic) "Free our prisoners."
People in the Alavi neighborhood of Ahwaz* declared solidarity with political prisoners with the slogan of "Eid Mubarak" and "Akhoy Balsjen" as they sent Eid greetings to the prisoners with this slogan.
#Water - like - Aban (referring to November 2019)
#Alshaab- Yorid-Esghat- Al Nizam
*Susangard and Ahwaz are towns in Khuzestan province.
“Good-hearted people are constantly being bombarded with so many requests to sign petitions about important issues, that it is natural that they should feel overwhelmed, asking themselves what good will it do, wondering how one signature can possibly make a difference.
If I have signed on to the Emergency Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran, it is because I know that this initiative will effectively call attention to the situation of men and women in that country who, if enough pressure is brought to bear on its leaders, could tomorrow be liberated from terrible conditions and extraordinary injustice.
And even if those leaders do not listen, I am convinced – from personal experience – that the prisoners themselves are given strength to survive and persevere, they are listening. They know others, faraway, care what happens to them, and we should not let them down.”
According to the HRANA news agency, the news organ of the Iranian Association of Human Rights Activists, the time of the second session of the trial of Nahid Taghavi, Somayeh Kargar, Bahareh Soleimani, Nazanin Mohammadnejad, Mehran Raouf and Elham Samimi was set. This court session will be held on Sunday, June 14, 1400, [June 13, 2021] in Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, presided over by Judge Iman Afshari.
The first session of the court hearing their charges was held on May 28th. These citizens were arrested in October and December of last year by IRGC intelligence agents and transferred to the detention center of Ward 2A of Evin Prison.”
#Free Political Prisoners and Prisoners of Conscience
A Statement by Supporters of Iranian Political Prisoners in Europe
"Propaganda against the state". That's one of the most frequent charges in politically-motivated imprisonments in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Translated, it means: Thinking is forbidden and talking about your thoughts is a crime. According to the Islamic Republic, those who think differently and even worse, those who think in opposition to the Regime, are a threat to its "national security." Additionally, if these thoughts are not in accordance with Sharia law, the people holding those thoughts are doubly criminalized.
Iran’s Islamic Republic is a theocratic regime and the religious beliefs of the ruling elite are meticulously written into law. Moreover, interpretation of this law is itself a haphazard affair because there are several schools of interpretation of Sharia law and each has its own clerical authority and all of these sects have control of their own jurisdictions.
This situation makes even a pretense of the rule of law impossible, because the constitution and whatever rights which might be inscribed in that constitution are in a constant state of being interpreted and re-interpreted through the prism of Sharia law. So there is no rule of law. There is no due process. And the prisoner is presumed to be guilty, and on the basis of this presumption of guilt, the prisoner is arrested.
After the arrest, prisoners are completely at the mercy of the whims of their interrogators. The lack of Habeas Corpus means prisoners do not have the right to appear before a court immediately and do not have the right to a lawyer.
Interrogations begin with prisoners having no contact to the outside world. They are often accompanied by physical torture and always paired with the psychological “white torture” of isolation and sensory deprivation. In the case of women, it is accompanied by verbal and different degrees of physical sexual abuse.
This behavior is sanctioned by Sharia law as well, because according to Sharia law, a prisoner has the status of a slave who is to be used and abused.
Some prisoners are tortured by being held in solitary confinement for months and even years, blindfolded when they leave their cells, kept under 24-hour video surveillance, and subject to inhuman conditions such as sleeping on the hard stone floors of their cells without pillows. They are often denied access to medical care. All this is designed to destroy prisoners physically and mentally.
This whole process is meant to produce "evidence" in the form of wrenching "confessions" from prisoners. Even when enough real evidence of a prisoner’s thinking, writing, and activities are seized in raids to demonstrate their opposition to the regime, the torture keeps going. Why? Because the goal is to prove not only the prisoner’s guilt, but his or her "sinfulness.". This is related to Sharia law. Torturing the prisoner has two goals: one is to extract information and the other is to "break" the prisoner and, as the Sharia puts it, to bring them to do "tobeh,” to admit their regret for having violated the Sharia.
Once the interrogations are over and a dossier or a case file is created, the case is taken to the court. Until then, prisoners usually have no access to an independent lawyer. A few days - sometimes hours - before the trial, their lawyer is allowed to inspect the case files. These files may only be read in the courthouse and in the presence of security officers. In some cases, lawyers are not admitted to court at all, and trials even take place without the accused being present. Iran’s judicial processes are a sham because the judgments have been made by prosecutors and interrogators – Iran’s judges are not independent -- before the case even comes to court. And these can be extremely harsh judgments which often include cruel punishments like lashings or even execution.
The Iranian judicial system rejects and acts in opposition to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” In fact, there can be no just society without the rule of law; there can be no rule of law without due process of law; and there can be no due process of law without the presumption of innocence!
All of this points to the fact that these political prisoners should never have been arrested. They are heroes who have stood up for others. They should be celebrated, not behind bars.
Therefore, the only just remedy is:
Immediate and unconditional freedom for all political prisoners in Iran!
Center for Human Rights in Iran
UN Press Release
GENEVA (4 May 2021) – UN human rights experts* today expressed serious concern over the condition of imprisoned Iranian filmmaker and political activist Mohammad Nourizad and called for his immediate release. His health has reportedly deteriorated so severely that he risks serious complications and possible death if he remains in prison and does not receive appropriate medical care.
“We are seriously concerned at the mistreatment of Mohammad Nourizad and his continued imprisonment for expressing his opinion,” the experts said. “Furthermore, his continued detention despite medical professionals finding he cannot stay in prison given his serious health condition, and the resulting denial of adequate medical care, may amount to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
“His case is emblematic of the situation many Iranian political activists face in detention. He must be immediately released.”
In February 2020, Nourizad received multiple sentences, including a seven-and-a-half-year prison term, after being convicted on charges relating to an open letter he and others signed calling for the Supreme Leader’s resignation and for constitutional changes.
While in detention, Nourizad has carried out hunger strikes and refused to take medications, most recently starting 10 March 2021, to protest against his imprisonment and his family’s mistreatment.
The Iranian Independent Workers Union strongly condemns the arrest and continuing arrest of Mehran Raouf in the cells of 2 A of the IRC and calls on the officials to end illegal holding this labour activist and release him immediately and unconditionally.
Independent Union of Iranian Workers - April 29, 1400
The situation of dual-nationals and foreign persons taken hostage and imprisoned by the Iranian government has not only remained unchanged, but in certain cases it has deteriorated, despite the new US administration’s approach to Iran and resumption of nuclear talks between the P5+1 and Iran in recent weeks.
Read full article on IranHumanRights.org.
Mansoureh Behkish, Mothers of Khavaran
Dieter Karg, Spokesman of Iran Coordination group of Amnesty International Germany - Germany
Farhang Ghassemi, President, Commission des droits humains de la Fédération Européens des Écoles - France
Mehran Mostafavi, Professor, Physical Chemistry, University Paris Sud. - France
Mehrdad Vahabi, Dept. of Economics and Management, University of Paris VIII - France
Taghi Rahmani, Political activist, journalist and writer - France
Shahrzad Mojab, Professor, Toronto
Erica Deuber Ziegler, Art historian - Switzerland
Jean Ziegler, Sociologist and writer - Switzerland
Dr. Saroj Giri, Academic, University of Delhi - India
John John Hutnyk, Researcher, Politics, Prisons and Universities, Ton Duc Thang University - Vietnam
Julia Tomassetti, Assistant Professor of Law - Hong Kong
Mehri Jafari, UK Solicitor and advocate forIranian-British dual citizen, political prisoner Mehran Raoof - UK
Meredoc McMinn, Barrister - UK
Greg Ó Ceallaig, Barrister - UK
Satar Rahmani, Mehran Raoof Legal Defense - Germany
William Bourdon, Lawyer - France
Kave Milani, Spokesman, Burn The Cage - Sweden
Mariam Claren, Daughter of politicalprisoner Nahid Taghavi, campaigner to #freenahid - Germany
Shekib Mosadeq, Revolutionary Afghan artist, activist - Germany
Elika Ashoori, Daughter of political prisoner Anoosheh Ashoori - Germany
Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, British-Australian academic, former political prisoner in Iran - Australia
Radio Payam Canada - Canada
Bettina Bab - Germany
Father Claude Mostowik msc, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart - Australia
Azadeh Kian,University Professor, Paris
John Lonsdale, Professor Emeritus, University of Cambridge, UK
Liz Bernstein, Human Rights Activist, Canada
*Institutions listed for identification only