A social media backlash has followed the decision to jail three writers in Iran for a total of 18 years.
Baktash Abtin, Kayvan Bazhan, and Reza Khandan-Mahabadi were each given a six-year sentence May 15 for “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the state”.
The ruling was made at branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Iran by Mohammad Moghiseh, a judge known for his harsh line on human rights activists, lawyers, and members of religious minorities.
A statement from the Iran Writers Association (IWA) condemned the verdict, insisting that Abtin, Bazhan, and Khandan-Mahabadi were being punished for their membership of the organization.
It claimed they had been involved in research for a book on five decades of the IWA history and organizing memorial ceremonies for IWA members allegedly murdered by state agents in the 1990s.
This amounted to “assembly and collusion against national security” which the IWA believes is the real reason behind the verdict.
“This trial is not just the condemnation of three writers. This was not a trial against the IWA alone. It condemns all writers and others who want to enjoy the right to free expression,” the organization said.
The statement added: “What kind of national security gets threatened with the publication of newsletters and protest statements? Whose security gets threatened when IWA members organize gatherings at the grave of poets and writers?
“No court with the least measure of care for justice, impartiality, and human rights could accept such activities as evidence of a crime. In fact, it would see it as a frame-job".
Civil rights activists in Iran have repeatedly maintained that whenever the Islamic Republic recognizes an individual as “troublesome”, it charges them with vaguely defined accusations, such as “propaganda against the establishment”, “disrupting public peace and order”, “collusion for illegal assembly”, and “attempts against national security”.
The IWA – which was set up in 1968 during the monarchy to highlighted state censorship – said: “Such sentences are highly regrettable and should be repealed.”
Since the verdict, dozens of Iranian writers have turned to social media to express dismay and anger at Judge Moghishe’s decision.
Journalist and author Mehdi Yazdani Khorram wrote on Instagram: “What I should I say about such a verdict? Where could I go to seek justice? 18 years behind bars for three writers? On what charges? Have they committed murder? Are they convicted of stealing? For a 'little bit of embezzlement' or smuggling?”
His last phrase is a broadside at Islamic Republic insiders who are often exposed for corruption and embezzlement.
Author Hengameh Hovayda said that drives such as the “Free the Writer!” campaign have proven futile.
Referring to the writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Ja'far Pouyandeh who were allegedly killed by the Islamic Republic intelligence agents in 1990s, Hovayda has said: “I have never been able to take any effective step against such actions of the regime. I have not only been able to save anyone from being jailed or executed, but I have witnessed many of my friends' lives taken away by the ruling establishment.”
She added: “Out of helplessness, I have always surrendered to the will of the establishment … I am ashamed of my impotence. We are facing a wolf, and one cannot talk to a wolf in sheep's language.”
Author Zahra Abdi reminded Iranian authorities of the last days of the Shah’s rule: “Once again we are putting reason in chains. We have placed ecologists, teachers, and writers behind bars, opening up the way for 'visionless protests,' and paving the way for the foreigners to invade the country easily”.
“We are our own Trojan Horse,” she added.
Hadi Ghaemi of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said Iran’s use of “kangaroo courts” to jail writers and artists was a “travesty of justice”.
Earlier this month PEN International’s Rebecca Sharkey said: “We stand in solidarity with our Iranian colleagues who are targeted due to their writing and peaceful activism. We call on the Iranian authorities to drop all charges against them and to respect their right to freedom of expression.”