Tell Iran to Release Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi

To the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ebrahim Raisi

PEN Barbey Freedom to Write Award Honorees Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi.
PEN America

*UPDATE: Imprisoned Iranian poet, filmmaker, and recipient of the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award Baktash Abtin died in a Tehran hospital, succumbing to COVID-19, on January 8, 2022. Jailed alongside his colleagues and co-defendants Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi since September 2020, Abtin was a true champion of free expression and a steadfast leader in the Iranian literary and human rights communities.

Our thoughts are with Abtin’s family, friends, and colleagues in the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA). Join us in urgently calling on officials at Evin prison to release his co-honorees Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi—as well as IWA member Arash Ganji, who was jailed in October 2021—immediately, along with others unjustly detained in Iran and who are battling COVID infections or other severe health concerns, before it is too late.


In 2021, PEN America honored imprisoned Iranian writers Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi with the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. All three writers have been imprisoned by the Iranian authorities for their writing, their defense of free expression, and their peaceful opposition to state censorship. In May 2019, they were each sentenced to six years in prison on spurious national security and propaganda charges. In September 2020, after an appeals process, they were summoned to begin their collective 15-and-a-half-year sentence at Evin Prison, even as the COVID-19 pandemic was ravaging Iranian prisons. Join PEN America in calling for their release now.

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To: To the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ebrahim Raisi
From: [Your Name]

Dear President Raisi,

We, the undersigned writers, journalists, creative artists, and supporters of PEN America, are writing to urge the release of three Iranian writers and recipients of the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi.

Abtin, Bajan, and Khandan Mahabadi are imprisoned at Evin prison, serving a collective 15-and-a-half-year sentence on unjust propaganda and national security charges. At Evin, the trio have been denied hospital visits for necessary medical care, and Abtin and Khandan Mahabadi have both contracted COVID-19. 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.

Abtin, Bajan, and Khandan Mahabadi’s convictions are the result of a years-long investigation into their advocacy and writings beginning in 2015, when their homes were raided and writings confiscated. In 2019, the three stood trial and were convicted to a collective 18 years in prison for “propaganda” and “colluding against national security.” An appeals process reduced Bajan’s sentence, but the trio was summoned to prison on September 27, 2020.

These three writers—poet, screenwriter, and filmmaker Baktash Abtin; novelist and journalist Keyvan Bajan; and author, literary critic, and popular culture researcher Reza Khandan Mahabadi—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. Each of them has also played leading roles in Iran’s literary community by serving on the board of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA), an over 50-year-old professional group of writers in Iran that has been banned since the 1980s. Despite the risks, Abtin, Bajan, and Khandan Mahabadi have nevertheless carried on the legacies of late Iranian poets, intellectuals, and dissidents by organizing memorials, literary events, newsletters, and other publications—activities that, to the judiciary, amount to serious crimes.

It is high time the Iranian state respects the free expression rights of Iranian writers, poets, and thinkers and recognizes the rich traditions of Iran's diverse literary community. 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 jailed in Iran for exercising their freedom to write.


Ayad Akhtar
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Reza Aslan
Margaret Atwood
Paul Auster
Alec Baldwin
Laura Bickford
Behrouz Boochani
Michael Chabon
Ron Chernow
Sandra Cisneros
J. M. Coetzee
Molly Crabapple
Lydia Davis
Ariel Dorfman
Mike Downey
Jennifer Egan
Louise Erdrich
Jeffrey Eugenides
Oskar Eustis
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Jonathan Franzen
Adam Gopnik
Philip Gourevitch
John Green
Lev Grossman
Roya Hakakian
Daniel Handler
James Hannaham
Tom Healy
Elizabeth Hemmerdinger
Khaled Hosseini
David Henry Hwang
Siri Hustvedt
Mary Karr
Jeff Kaufman
David Kaye
Nicole Krauss
Chang-rae Lee
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman
Jonathan Lethem
M. G. Lord
Ma Thida
David Mazzucchelli
Colum McCann
Abbas Milani
Rick Moody
Paul Muldoon
Azar Nafisi
Ahmed Naji
Maggie Nelson
Joyce Carol Oates
Susan Orlean
Orhan Pamuk
Robert Pinsky
Allison Markin Powell
Francine Prose
David J. Remnick
Howard A. Rodman
Marcia S. Ross
Esmeralda Santiago
George Saunders
Simon Schama
Stacy Schiff
Alice Sebold
Elif Shafak
Fatima Shaik
Gary Shteyngart
Kiki Smith
Andrew Solomon
Amir Soltani
Stephen Sondheim
Alec Soth
Art Spiegelman
Tom Stoppard
Meryl Streep
Rose Styron
Aatish Taseer
Colm Tóibín
Calvin Trillin
Anne Tyler
David L. Ulin
Ayelet Waldman
Edmund White
Tobias Wolff
Sholeh Wolpé
KK Wooton
Tom Zoellner