A change of government in the Islamic Republic of Iran in August 2013 raised hopes for greater tolerance, but in spite of pledges made by President Rouhani to protect and promote freedom of expression, the new administration has not made any significant improvements in this respect to date. Although some apparently cosmetic gestures have been made, such as the release of journalist and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh in September 2013, dozens remain behind bars and arrests are continuing – for example, that of poets and lyricists Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moosavi summoned on 7 December 2013 and held for over a month in Evin prison.
Well over 20 writers are currently detained in Iran for the peaceful expression of their opinions. Recent months have seen several journalists and filmmakeras arrested and/or imprisoned, including journalist Saba Azarpeik, filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi, blogger Mehdi Khazali (later released), journalist Reyhaneh Tabatabaei and journalist and blogger Marzieh Rasouli.
Newspapers have been closed and numerous journalists, bloggers, writers, and minority language advocates have been arrested or continue to serve lengthy prison terms for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression. Restrictive policies and practices limit the ability of people in Iran to access information and communicate in private via the internet.
Censorship is an ever more suffocating phenomenon in all areas of political, social and cultural life. For example, books that have been accepted even after long “legal and religious procedures” and have been approved for publication are again seized by government censors. Writers are fleeing Iran in droves, for fear of arbitrary arrest, torture or other ill-treatment, or even the death penalty, while others have decided they simply cannot practise their profession in the current climate in Iran.
PEN International calls on the authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran to:
- Release immediately and unconditionally all writers, journalists and bloggers who are held solely in connection with the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression;
- Abolish all forms of censorship and allow the free dissemination of information in line with international human rights standards
- End the repression of and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including allowing them to express themselves freely in the language of their choice, both orally and in writing and to have their culture valued, and their literature promoted and distributed;
- Abide by Iran’s obligations under international human rights treaties to protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Annex: Non-exhaustive list of major cases in the Islamic Republic of Iran documented by PEN International in its 2013 Case List.