October 15, 2015
Iranian poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Musavi have been sentenced to 11.5 and 9 years in prison, respectively, and 99 lashes each in what PEN American Center today called a miscarriage of justice and an emblem of the unwavering assault on human rights and creative freedom in Iran.
The two poets, both known for their writings on social issues, were first arrested in December 2013 and placed in solitary confinement, during which time prison interrogators extracted false confessions from them under duress. They were released on bail in January 2014 while awaiting a verdict on a range of charges that include “insulting the sacred” in their poems, “publishing unauthorized content,” and “propaganda against the state.” Books of poetry by both Ekhtesari and Musavi had received permits from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and had been published legally in Iran. According to the pair’s lawyer, Amir Raeisian, their writing contains no content that could be deemed to “insult sanctities.” After a wait of more than 18 months, Ekhtesari has now been sentenced to 11.5 years, while Musavi received a nine-year prison term. The pair were also sentenced to 99 lashes each for shaking hands with unrelated members of the opposite sex, which is deemed an “illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery” in Iran. Ekhtesari had admitted to shaking the hands of male participants at a poetry festival in Sweden. They have 20 days from the date of the verdict to submit an appeal
“Ekhtesari and Musavi’s arrests and convictions are a travesty of justice, and send a chill over the already beleaguered creative community in Iran,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN. “Writing poetry and participating in literary festivals overseas are not crimes. The spectacle of a regime flogging a poet to punish a handshake is a grave affront. For a country with a proud literary tradition, this is yet a new low.”
In recent months, a number of harsh convictions and long sentences for free expression have been handed down to a range of creative artists and activists of all kinds, including writer and television producer Mostafa Azizi, cartoonist Atena Farghadani, and filmmaker Keywan Karimi.