This article originated in VOA’s Persian service. 


An international writers association says three Iranian authors apparently sentenced to long prison terms this week in Iran remain free, pending possible appeals in their trial for alleged security offenses.  


In a statement to VOA Persian on Friday, London-based PEN International said it understood that writers Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan-Mahabadi had not yet been arrested. PEN International said it had not had direct contact with them but had spoken to Arash Ganji, secretary of the Iranian Writers Association, of which the three men are members.  


In a Thursday statement posted on its website, which is run from exile, IWA said a Tehran court notified the writers’ lawyers the previous day that it had imposed six-year prison terms on Abtin, Bajan and Khandan-Mahabadi. IWA said each writer was sentenced to five years for “colluding against national security” and one year for “spreading propaganda” against the government.  


IWA, an Iranian writers union that has campaigned for freedom of expression and against censorship since its founding in 1968, condemned the verdicts and demanded their immediate cancellation. It dismissed the evidence of alleged security offenses by the writers as “weak” and “irrelevant,” saying it included documentation of their IWA activities such as publishing an IWA journal, gathering materials for a book about IWA’s 50th anniversary and visiting the graves of slain Iranian writers to honor their memories. IWA operates without approval from Iran’s Islamist rulers.  


There has been no comment on the prison sentences against three writers in Iranian state media.  

PEN’s support


PEN International said the three men had 20 days to appeal their verdicts. In a statement published earlier this month, the organization’s communications director, 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.” 


PEN International said Abtin, Bajan and Khandan-Mahabadi were briefed about the charges in a January court hearing, after which they were detained for several days before being released on bail. It said their last hearings at the court were held on April 27 and 28.  


The three writers do not appear to have made any public statements in recent days. A VOA Persian email to the IWA’s Ganji requesting more information about the men’s status was not immediately answered.  


Last September, PEN International’s Assembly of Delegates passed a resolution on Iran, noting with concern that it “continues to violate its obligations under international human rights law, mainly through restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”