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Three Jailed Iranian Writers Honored By PEN America

Iranian writers Keyvan Bajan (left), Baktash Abtin (center), and Reza Khandan Mahabadi.

The open-expression advocacy group PEN America has honored three imprisoned Iranian writers during its annual gala in New York, and awarded them with the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Keyvan Bajan, Baktash Abtin, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi are "celebrated writers who have been imprisoned by the Iranian authorities for their writing, their defense of free expression, and their peaceful opposition to state censorship," PEN America said on October 5.

The group's chief executive, Suzanne Nossel, noted that the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award is conferred on writers "whose courage prompts us to renew our collective vow to defend free societies."

Bajan, Abtin, and Khandan Mahabadi are serving prison sentences ranging from 3 to 6 years over their involvement with the Iranian Writers Association, whose members have been summoned, threatened, and jailed by the Iranian authorities.

International human rights groups and media-freedom watchdogs have condemned the prison sentences handed to the trio and called for their release.

Nearly 370 artists and intellectuals across the world have signed a letter recently addressed to Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, calling for the trio’s release.

"These three writers…have fruitfully contributed to Iran’s rich literary history, writing books, poetry and short stories, and editing multi-volume encyclopedias of Iranian fiction and oral histories of great writers," the letter reads.

"Despite the risks, Abtin, Bajan, and Khandan Mahabadi have nevertheless carried on the legacies of late Iranian poets, intellectuals, and dissidents by organizing memorials, literary events, newsletters, and other publications -- activities that, to the judiciary, amount to serious crimes."

Signatories of the letter include Nobel Prize-winning writers J.M. Coetzee of South Africa, Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini, and Turkey's Orhan Pamuk, as well as Hollywood star Meryl Streep.

With reporting by AFP
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