A view of the entrance of Evin prison in Tehran

Iran Remains Second Largest Jailer of Writers Worldwide

Saturday, 05/04/2024

Iran retained its position as the second highest country to imprison writers amid the country's nationwide uprising, second only to China, according to the 2023 Freedom to Write Index.

Released on Friday by PEN America, the latest report echoes the results of last year which found that Iranian authorities continue to detain authors, many of whom are associated with the Woman Life Freedom movement of 2022.

The regime’s crackdown during the Woman Life Freedom movement that was sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, saw the deaths of at least 550 Iranians and the arrest of tens of thousands, including scores of journalists and writers.

In 2023, Iran remained the leading jailer of female writers in the world, with 15 women being targeted for their writing and advocacy against the mandatory hijab and other laws discriminating against women, according to the Freedom to Write Index. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Narges Mohammadi and poet and activist Sepideh Rashnu are still behind bars.

Jamshid Barzegar, a former member of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA), told Iran International: “The Islamic Republic has become accustomed to its one-sided narrative, which excludes the voices of others. The regime does not allow writers, artists, and journalists to form and express their opinions.”

Beyond writers, the artistic community has also been targeted, from directors and actresses to songwriters and musicians. In April, Toomaj Salehi, the dissident rapper who had been rearrested in late 2023, was sentenced to death, sparking a global outcry.

The Islamic Republic has a long history of imprisoning writers and artists, including execution. Baktash Abtin died in prison in January 2022 of COVID-19 complications after he was denied timely treatment by officials at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. The Iranian Revolutionary Court sentenced him, along with two other writers working on a book about the IWA's history, to six years in prison in 2019 for "spreading propaganda against the system" and "assembling and colluding against national security.”

“Incarceration is merely one tactic in a broader array of repressive measures that include short-term detentions, spurious legal charges, and conditions on release such as job losses and restrictions on social media use,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s Writers at Risk program.

"The problem extends beyond prison walls. The Islamic Republic systematically bans books and thoughts and puts economic strain on its citizens, ultimately leading them to exile,” explained Barzegar.

The Freedom To Write report comes alongside similar figures from the 2024 World Press Freedom Index just released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Iran's targeted repression of journalists has led to the country's appalling ranking in the RSF Index placing it 176th out of 180 countries assessed. The RSF ranking places Iran below China, and just ahead of North Korea, Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea.

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