According to a report released by PEN America, at least 238 writers and intellectuals were detained for their work in 2019, of which 14 cases were in Iran. This number gives Iran the 4th rank in the blacklist of suppression of freedom of speech.
According to PEN America’s 38 pages long report about “Freedom to Write Index”, published on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, the 238 imprisonments and detentions occurred in 34 countries, and the majority took place in China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The published data includes unfairly detained poets, scholars, songwriters and translators, among other intellectuals. It does not include journalists unless they also belong to one of the categories in question. Some detained individuals were excluded from the report at the request of family members who feared that public attention could worsen their situations.
China with 73, Saudi Arabia with 38 and Turkey with 30 cases rank first to third in PEN America’s blacklist. Iran is also counted as “one the worst offender” countries regarding freedom for writers and intellectuals and ranks 4th after Turkey.
The freedom of expression advocacy group indicates President Rouhani’s government, though campaigning on the promise of liberal reform, including the expansion of individual freedoms and free speech policies, as notorious for opaque judicial processes, arbitrary detentions, and extreme penalties for writers, including novelists, short story writers, and academics.
The association also refers to Iranian writer and activist, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee who has been in prison for the last 6 years. She was first sentenced to six years and then to an additional two and a half years in prison.
Other references are Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian anthropologist conducting research in Iran, and her partner Gabriel Marchal. Gabriel Marchal was released in a prisoner swap between Iran and France, Adelkhah is still in Prison.
A further reference is prominent lawyer, writer, and activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is currently serving a combined sentence of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, on national security charges.
Regarding Mrs. Sotoudeh’s hunger strike to advocate for the release of political prisoners due to the coronavirus outbreak, PEN America expresses their intensified concerns for them.
Women detainees make up just around 16 percent of the total count, but a disproportionate number of women detained were actively working to advance women’s rights. Among those included in the group’s count is Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi writer and women’s rights activist currently behind bars.
Egypt (11 cases), Myanmar (10 cases), Eritrea (8 cases), Vietnam (8 cases), India (5 cases) and Cuba (4 cases) were listed after Iran on the blacklist.
PEN America was founded in 1922, in New York and aims to defend freedom of expression, the advancement of literature and the protection of international literary awards.