The Australian chapter of PEN International, a freedom of expression group, has strongly condemned the detention of award-winning Baha’i writer and poet Mahvash Sabet in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where she is being held in solitary confinement, and the 10-year prison sentence handed down against her.
Sabet, aged 69, was arrested in July and, on December 10, according to the Baha'i International Community, was sentenced to a decade in prison along with Fariba Kamalabadi, another member of Iran’s persecuted Baha'i religious minority.
The writer was charged with disturbing national security, an accusation that human rights defenders say has not been supported by any proof. She had spent a previous 10 years behind bars on similar charges.
In a statement on December 29, PEN Sydney called on the Iranian authorities to “immediately release her and other Baha’is unjustly detained in Iran, including Fariba Kamalabadi.”
“Sabet has certificates from medical specialists stating that she needs regular medical attention and that she does not have the health condition to serve a prison term,” PEN Sydney said, adding that her family have expressed “grave concerns for her life and safety.”
Sabet has not been allowed any visitors since her arrest and her family has had no contact with her since November 21.
Sabet was awarded the 2017 PEN Pinter Prize and was recognized as an International Writer of Courage for her book Prison Poems, written during her previous incarceration.
Her detention comes as part of a crackdown by Iranian authorities on members of the Baha'i community, which began with Sabet's and Kamalabadi's arrest in July, and which has continued after the eruption of nationwide demonstrations in September.
Since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979, Baha'is in Iran have faced systematic discrimination and harassment, including deportation, restrictions to education, property confiscations, imprisonment, torture, and executions.
Shia Islam is the state religion in Iran. The constitution recognizes a number of minority faiths, including Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, but not the Baha'i faith.
Sabet was a teacher and school principal until the 1979 Islamic Revolution barred her from working in the public sector – like all Baha’is. She later served as director of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, an informal or “underground” university established by the Baha’is in the 1980s to overcome the denial of their right to higher education.