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President Rohani has said he will ease restrictions on artists.
Iran's Writers Association says security officials have prevented the group from holding its monthly advisory meeting.

In a recently issued statement, the group says the meeting was due to be held on January 14 at the home of one of the members. But according to the statement, a few days before the scheduled meeting, the individual was summoned by the Intelligence Ministry and "forced" to cancel the gathering.

The statement comes two weeks after Iran's President Hassan Rohani pledged to ease restrictions on artists.

Rohani said art shouldn't be viewed as a security threat.

"Art without freedom is nonsense and creativity is developed in the light of freedom," he was quoted as saying in the January 8 meeting with a group of artists, writers, and poets. At least one prominent member of the Writers Association, leading author Mahmud Dolatabadi, was reportedly present at the meeting.

"Can one speak of freedom of art while the activities of the Writers Association -- which has fought for freedom of expression for half a century and believes freedom is necessary for literature and creative art -- be banned?" asks Iran's Writers Association in its statement.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, the group's secretary, Nasser Zarafshan, blamed Rohani for the pressure against the Writers Association.

"The Intelligence Ministry is part of the [government]. Ministers work directly under the supervision of the president. It would be [a mess] if Rohani wouldn't have control and supervision over his own ministries," Zarafshan said in a telephone interview from Tehran.

In recent years, a number of the members of Iran's Writers Association have been summoned by the authorities, threatened, put on trial and sent to jail. The group says Iranian authorities have not only tried to shut down the association and neutralize it, but they have also attempted to create similar groups.

In 1998, two members of the Writers Association became victims of the so-called chain murders of intellectuals and dissidents by "rogue agents " of Iran's Intelligence Ministry.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari
Iranian opposition figure Mehdi Karrubi (file photo)
The U.S. State Department's Persian-language spokesman Alan Eyre has sent condolences via Facebook over the death of one of the sisters of opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi.

In a message in Persian posted with a picture of Karrubi, Eyre writes that it was with "with deepest regret" that he found out about the death of Fatemeh Karrubi, the sister of the former Iranian parliament speaker.

The Facebook message is a small gesture by the State Department toward Iran's opposition movement, which has been under intense pressure from the country's leaders.

Iranian authorities have been holding Karrubi under house arrest with reportedly almost no contact with the outside world in an apparent effort to silence him and make the public and his supporters forget him.

In a letter issued last week, Karrubi's wife wrote that the 74-year-old cleric had recently undergone back surgery. She said Karrubi had been hospitalized in Tehran's Arad hospital for nine days.

Karrubi's family has expressed concern over his health, which they say has deteriorated under house arrest. Karrubi is reportedly being held at an intelligence ministry safe house.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi along with his wife university professor Zahra Rahnavard are also being held under house arrest.

The three opposition figures were put under house arrest in February 2011 after calling for a demonstration in solidarity with uprisings in Arab countries. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters responded.
Alan Eyre
Alan Eyre

Since the election of Iran's President Hassan Rohani, calls for their release have increased.

In his election campaign, Rohani had promised to release political prisoners.

The social-media-savvy Eyre had previously used Facebook to send his condolences over the death of the mother of Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

At the time, some users criticized Eyre for reaching out to an Iranian official.

--Golnaz Esfandiari

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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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