RAN 21/07 – 2 November 2017
PEN International is deeply concerned about the well-being and safety of Dr. Sedigheh Vasmaghi, an Iranian author and poet who was arrested by the Iranian authorities upon her arrival to Iran from Sweden in October 2017. Vasmaghi had been residing in Sweden since 2012 as a guest of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), a close partner organisation of PEN International. Vasmaghi was forced to flee her country in March 2011 due to threats and persecution. PEN considers Vasmaghi’s recent arrest and detention to be politically-motivated and linked to her writings and peaceful activities. PEN calls for her immediate and unconditional release as well as the release of all writers, journalists and publishers who are unfairly imprisoned in Iran, in violation of their right to freedom of expression and opinion.
Please send appeals:
- Calling on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Sedigheh Vasmaghi;
- Calling on them to ensure the full respect of her rights as a prisoner, in accordance with international human rights standards;
- Ensure that the right to freedom of expression in Iran is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.
Leader of the Islamic Republic
Grand Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street — End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Twitter: @khamenei_ir English-language account), @Khamenei_ar (Arabic-language), @Khamenei_es (Spanish-language account).
Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
c/o Public Relations Office
Number 4, Deadend of 1 Azizi – Vali Asr Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and
And copy to the Embassy of Iran in your country. You can find embassy addresses here.
Please inform PEN of any action you take, and of any responses you receive
PEN members are encouraged to publish articles and opinion pieces in the national or local press highlighting the case of Sedigheh Vasmaghi and the situation of freedom of expression in Iran.
On 14 October 2017, Vasmaghi, along with her husband, arrived from Sweden to Iran where she was detained for several hours at Tehran’s International Airport. Vasmaghi was then released and ordered to reappear for interrogation on 22 October where she was brought before Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, which is responsible for protecting the Iranian political regime. The hearing took around ten minutes, without allowing Vasmaghi to speak, during which the judge mentioned a previous court ruling pronounced against the writer before her departure aboard, as well as her opposition to the practice of stoning, which is a method of capital punishment for those found guilty of adultery. Vasmaghi was then immediately transferred to Evin prison where she is currently detained. The judge has reportedly set an unusually high amount for bail.
Vasmaghi is a well-known poet, writer, and women’s rights activist. She obtained her PhD in law at Tehran University and is one of few women to have taught the subject of Islamic law in Iran. As a university lecturer, she worked tirelessly to highlight and improve women’s status and rights in Iranian society. She has written many articles on political, legal, Islamic and social issues, which have been published in various newspapers and magazines in Iran, including Cheshm Andaz Iran (Perspective in Iran). Vasmaghi has published her first poetry collection Praying for Rain in 1989, for which she received the 1991 Best Book Award by the University of Al-Zahra, Tehran. Since then, she has published five collections of poetry in addition to several academic books, and translated classical Arabic poetry to Persian.
Due to her activism and writings, Vasmaghi was under pressure and harassment from the Iranian authorities. A number of police complaints and charges were brought against her in connection with her publications and speeches. For instance, she was prosecuted in May 1997 due to a complaint filed by a conservative deputy in connection with her article published in the Salam Newspaper, in which she criticised the confidential negotiations between the above mentioned deputy and a British official. Due to this complaint, Vasmaghi received a two-month prison sentence, which was quashed by the Appeal Court, mainly because of international pressure by human rights groups such as Amnesty International. Furthermore, on 20 February 2011, the Iranian Security Ministry issued an order for Vasmaghi’s arrest. On the same day, a group of security agents raided Vasmaghi’s house, but failed to arrest her. Vasmaghi went into hiding before fleeing the country on 26 March 2011. Despite her departure, Vasmaghi’s private office was searched and her belongings were confiscated. While in Iran, a number of Vasmaghi’s scientific lectures and presentations were prevented from taking place by security agents, and several of her books and articles were banned from publication.
Vasmaghi arrived in Germany in 2011 as a guest professor at the University of Gottingen, where she taught in the department of Islamic Studies. In 2012, she moved to Uppsala city in Sweden, as an ICORN resident. After her residency, Vasmaghi stayed in this city and worked as a research fellow at Uppsala University.
The situation for freedom of expression and opinion remains dire in Iran. Many journalists and writers have been arbitrarily detained or forced to flee the country. PEN has campaigned on the cases of many writers such as Mahvash Sabet and Mohammad Sadiq, both were recently released after about a decade in prison. The challenge facing freedom of expression is complicated due to the Iranian Islamic Penal Code which includes vaguely worded provisions often used as charges to arrest bloggers, writers and political activists, such as ‘Moharebeh’ (waging war against God) and ‘spreading Corruption on Earth’. According to media reports, Iranian authorities have recently initiated a criminal investigation into 150 BBC staff, former staff and contributors for “conspiracy against national security”.
For any further information, please contact Nael Georges, PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN | Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 | Email: Nael.Georges@pen-international.org