The open expression advocacy group PEN America has expressed deep concerns over the health and safety of dozens of writers and artists held in Iranian jails and “facing either overt threats or medical neglect.”
In a statement on November 11, the group said the Iranian regime was “accelerating its repression” of free speech and assembly in response to a wave of nationwide protests by arresting and sentencing a growing number of writers and artists.
Many of them are well-known voices of dissent, it said, citing rappers Toomaj Salehi and Saman Yasin, as well as blogger Hossein Ronaghi.
“The Iranian government is putting writers’ lives at severe risk through its brazen violation of basic human rights that include systematic abuse and torture in custody, coupled with fast-tracked and harsh sentences solely for exercising the right to free expression,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s director of Free Expression at Risk Programs.
Karlekar said that the organization supports the recent call of UN human rights experts for the “immediate establishment of an independent mechanism with investigation, reporting, and accountability functions to address and put a stop to these abuses.”
Iran has been engulfed by protests since the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest by Tehran’s morality police for allegedly not complying with hijab regulations.
The protest movement, which has turned into the biggest challenge for the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution, was met with a brutal crackdown by security forces in which more than 300 people were killed and thousands were put behind bars. Officials say at least 40 security forces have also been killed in the unrest.
PEN America noted that Ronaghi has been detained in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since September 24 and has been undertaking a hunger strike for the past 50 days. His brother says he has not had access to necessary medications for kidney disease, prostrate or bladder inflammation, or ulcers. Ronaghi also had his two legs broken while in custody. All this has resulted in him vomiting blood continually.
Yasin, a Kurdish rapper, was arrested on October 2 and tortured during his detention before being sentenced to death on October 29 for “enmity against God.” Yasin has written songs about unemployment and government oppression, and also supported the ongoing protests.
Another rapper, Salehi, was arrested on October 30 and held in solitary confinement. He has released songs about the demonstrations and participating in protests, posting videos of himself on social media during the events. Salehi is said to have been tortured while in custody.
Rapper Emad Ghavidel was conditionally released on bail earlier this month following his arrest for “inciting the youth to chaos.” Following his release, Ghavidel said he had been beaten in jail. He is particularly popular in his hometown of Rasht for writing songs critical to Iran’s clerical rulers.
According to PEN America, other recently jailed writers and artists who remain subject to abuse include Atefeh Chaharmahalian, Saeed Heleichi, Golrokh Iriyaei, and Behrouz Yasemi.
Iran is among the top five global jailers of writers, with at least 21 of them put behind bars last year, according to PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index.