[Marxism] Petition Urges Ayatollah to Pardon Condemned Iranian Poets

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 2 09:13:31 MST 2015

NY Times, Nov. 2 2015
Petition Urges Ayatollah to Pardon Condemned Iranian Poets

Two Iranian poets sentenced to long prison terms and floggings have 
vaulted to international literary prominence over their prosecution, 
which appears to reflect a tough new crackdown on rights and creative 
arts in Iran.

On Sunday, the PEN American Center, an advocacy group that promotes free 
expression worldwide, sent a petition signed by 116 poets and writers to 
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, beseeching him to grant 
pardons to the condemned poets, Fatemeh Ekhtesari, 31, and Mehdi 
Mousavi, 41.

“We are deeply concerned by the inhuman sentences levied against Ms. 
Ekhtesari and Mr. Mousavi for the simple act of expressing themselves by 
creating art,” read the letter, which was posted on the group’s website.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s own poetic writings and Iran’s rich history of 
literature, the letter read, should serve to justify his intervention. 
“As a poet and scholar of poetry, we appeal to you not to allow this 
legacy to be clouded by cruel and unwarranted treatment of these two 
writers,” the letter read.

Ms. Ekhtesari, who has won acclaim for poems about Iranian women, and 
Mr. Mousavi, known for poems on social issues, join a growing list of 
writers, artists, lawyers and political dissidents who have offended the 
conservative anti-Western factions believed to control the judiciary, 
the police, the military and the intelligence services in Iran.

Despite pledges by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran to soften the 
repressive atmosphere that prevailed before his election in 2013, rights 
advocates say that in some ways it has worsened, particularly since Mr. 
Rouhani’s government reached a nuclear agreement with foreign powers 
including the United States that stands to ease Iran’s international 
economic isolation.

Many rights activists view the crackdown as part of a struggle within 
the government, pitting Mr. Rouhani’s desire to open up the country 
against hard-liners who view such openness as a threat to their power 
and the tenets of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The same tensions appear to be reflected in the espionage prosecution 
and conviction of Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post’s Tehran 
correspondent, a dual citizen of the United States and Iran who has been 
imprisoned since July 2014, and the recent arrest of Siamak Namazi, an 
Iranian who has advocated improved relations with the United States.

While Ayatollah Khamenei supports the nuclear agreement, his sympathies 
also lie with the deeply anti-American suspicions shared by the 
agreement’s opponents in Iran.

Ms. Ekhtesari and Mr. Mousavi were first arrested in 2013, placed in 
solitary confinement and interrogated, according to activists following 
their case. They were released on bail in January 2014, awaiting 
verdicts on charges that included insulting the sacred in their poems, 
publishing unauthorized content and spreading anti-state propaganda.

The sentences — 11 and a half years for Ms. Ekhtesari and nine years for 
Mr. Mousavi, plus 99 lashes for both — were conveyed to their lawyer, 
Amir Raeesian, on Oct. 10. He has called them baseless and vowed to appeal.

Prosecutors have never made clear which poems were deemed criminal. But 
a poem from one of Ms. Ekhtesari’s collected works, “A Feminist 
Discussion Before Boiling the Potatoes,” was the basis for a 2010 
protest song by an Iranian musician based in Germany, Shahin Najafi, who 
was declared to be an apostate in Iran three years ago. Nor has a 
precise explanation been offered for the flogging punishment, but it may 
derive from a Swedish poetry festival, where both defendants shook hands 
with members of the opposite sex.

The PEN petition constitutes a Who’s Who in the Western poetic literary 
world, laced with best-selling authors and winners of Pulitzers, 
National Book Awards and other honors. Suzanne Nossel, executive 
director of the PEN American Center, said that while the group had 
organized petition drives before, “it was novel to mobilize poets.”

While the Iranian authorities often dispute criticism from American and 
mainstream human rights groups, Ms. Nossel said, she said she hoped the 
petition would be an exception in Iran.

“It’s a very literary culture,” she said. “They don’t dismiss poetry.”

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