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Popular Iranian Poet Detained Upon Return To Iran

Hila Sedighi

Hila Sedighi, a popular Iranian poet who had in the past criticized state repression and campaigned for an opposition presidential candidate, has been detained by authorities, relatives said.

Sedighi was arrested January 7 at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport as she returned from the United Arab Emirates, family members told RFE/RL. The reason for her arrest and charges were not immediately clear. The relatives asked not to be identified for fear of harassment by Iranian law enforcement.

It’s the second time Sedighi, 30, has been arrested. She was detained in May 2011 and held in Tehran’s Evin prison, but later released on bail.

In August 2011, reports said an Iranian court sentenced her to a four-month prison term that was suspended for five years.

Sedighi was believed to have been targeted in connection with the poems she wrote and recited in public in reaction to the brutal state crackdown that followed the 2009 mass street demonstrations over the reelection of then-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Sedighi was a member of the campaign team of Mir Hossein Musavi, an opposition lawmaker who lost the election to Ahmadinejad. Мusavi was put under house arrest in February 2011, along with his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, after repeatedly accusing authorities of mass election fraud and human rights abuses.

In one of her poems, Sedighi highlighted the plight of students arrested in the 2009 crackdown.

“The first day of the school year has arrived/ and I am full of memorable moments of the unforgettable memories/ the classroom is empty of you/ me and the faded flowers sitting at the desk. The weather is fall-like and it’s raining in me/ I am a prisoner of my own rage,” she wrote.

A video clip of her reciting the poem in a public gathering was widely shared on social media.

Her arrest comes amid what appears to be a new round of repression in Iran where in recent months a number of poets, filmmakers, activists, and journalists have been arrested or sentenced to prison.

Hadi Ghaemi, the head of the New York-based Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said the lack of tolerance of Iranian leaders for the "peaceful voices of the youth" indicated deteriorating tolerance for freedom of expression in the country.

"Arresting writers and young poets for the peaceful expression of their opinions has become a trend in Iran and the frequency [of the arrests] over a short time is unprecedented," Ghaemi said in a statement issued on the campaign's website.

Sedighi was among 41 writers around the world who received prestigious grants from Human Rights Watch in 2012 “for their commitment to freedom of expression and their courage in face of persecution.” The grants are awarded each year to writers who have been targets of political persecution.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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