Margaret Atwood and JM Coetzee call for the release of jailed Iranian writers | Books

Nobel laureates JM Coetzee and Orhan Pamuk are among the signatories of a letter demanding the release from prison of Iranian writers Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi.

The writers began a 15-and-a-half-year collective sentence at Evin Prison in Tehran in September 2020, for what the Writers Association PEN America has called “bogus” national security and propaganda charges. Since then, Abtin and Khandan Mahabadi have both contracted Covid-19. Abtin is a poet, screenwriter and filmmaker; Bajan is a novelist and journalist; and Khandan Mahabadi is an author and literary critic. According to PEN, their homes were searched and their writings confiscated in 2015. They were tried in 2019 and sentenced to prison terms for “propaganda” and “collusion against national security”.

Actor Meryl Streep was among those who signed the letter Photograph: Vianney Le Caer / Invision / AP

The letter – which is signed by dozens of writers including Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates and Khaled Hosseini, as well as playwrights including Tom Stoppard and Ariel Dorfman – calls on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to release the authors, to acquit of all charges “in the legal case unjustly brought against them”, and “to cease official reprisals against all writers exercising their right to express themselves freely”.

“It is high time that the Iranian state respects the free expression rights of Iranian writers, poets and thinkers and recognizes the rich traditions of the diverse Iranian literary community,” said the letter, which was organized by PEN America and which is also signed by the actors Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, the writers Alice Sebold and Colm Tóibín and the cartoonist Art Spiegelman. “We call on you, President Raisi, to end the unjust imprisonments of Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and to release all those imprisoned in Iran for exercising their freedom to write. “

The three jailed writers will receive 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, ”the letter said. “Despite the risks, Abtin, Bajan and Khandan Mahabadi nonetheless carried on the legacy of deceased Iranian poets, intellectuals and dissidents by organizing memorials, literary events, newsletters and other publications – activities which, for the judiciary, constitute serious crimes. “

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