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Nobel laureates and bestselling authors call on Iran to release jailed writers

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi urged to release Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, who were reportedly imprisoned for their writing
The three men served on the board of the Iranian Writers Association (AFP/File photo)

A group of Nobel laureates, Pulitzer prize recipients, Tony award-winning playwrights, and best-selling authors have called on Iranian authorities to release three writers who were jailed on "spurious" national security and propaganda charges, a campaign group has said.

PEN America, a New York-based nonprofit organisation dedicated to defending free speech in the literature and arts, urged Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday to release Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, all of whom were reportedly jailed for their writing.

"We call upon you, President Raisi, to release Abtin, Bajan, and Khandan Mahabadi; acquit them of all charges in the legal case wrongfully brought against them; and cease official retribution against all writers exercising their right to express themselves freely," PEN America said in the letter.

The three men served on the board of the Iranian Writers Association, a group that has been banned by Iranian authorities since the 1980s. They were each sentenced to six years in prison in 2019 because of their leading roles in the organisation, according to PEN America.

"It is high time the Iranian state respects the free expression rights of Iranian writers, poets and thinkers and recognises the rich traditions of Iran's diverse literary community," the letter said.

Included among those who signed the letter are the Nobel laureates JM Coetzee and Orhan Pamuk; Tony-award winning playwright Tom Stoppard; authors such as John Green, Margaret Atwood and Khaled Hosseini; and actor and actress Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep.

Poet and filmmaker Abtin, novelist and journalist Bajan and author Khandan Mahabadi are all set to be honoured with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award in October.

"[They] have fruitfully contributed to Iran's rich literary history, writing books, poetry and short stories, and editing multi-volume encyclopedias of Iranian fiction and oral histories of great writers," said the letter.

"Despite the risks, Abtin, Bajan, and Khandan Mahabadi have nevertheless carried on the legacies of late Iranian poets, intellectuals, and dissidents by organising memorials, literary events, newsletters, and other publications - activities that, to the judiciary, amount to serious crimes."