Sedigeh Vasmaghi is a theologian, poet, writer, and women’s rights activist who has written on a broad sweep of theological, political and social issues. She is highly regarded in Iran and abroad for her commentary on Islamic jurisprudence in Iran. In August 2020, Vasmaghi was sentenced to one year in prison for signing a petition criticising police brutality against protestors who had participated in demonstrations in November 2019. This sentence has been added to a five-year prison suspended term served on her in 2017, a total of six years. She remained free on appeal until October 2020 when her sentence was upheld. She is currently waiting to learn when she will be required to enter prison. Vasmaghi has for decades lived under constant surveillance and harassment, and her books are banned in Iran. She left Iran in 2011 to spend six years in exile in Germany and Sweden before returning in 2017. This sentence is the latest attempt to stifle Vasmaghi’s critical and independent commentary. PEN considers the sentences to be a clear breach of Sedigeh Vasmaghi’s right to freedom of expression and calls for them to be rescinded.
The following letter was written by the British writer Lisa Appignanesi, a former President of English PEN.
Dear Sedigeh Vasmaghi ,
It is terrible to think that you have been sentenced for signing a petition criticizing police brutality against protestors.
Don’t the Iranian authorities know that putting one’s name to a petition is an everyday act? Don’t they know that people have engaged in petitioning for thousands of years and that the first documented petitions come from the time of Egyptian pyramid-building, when slaves called for improved working conditions. Governments have been addressed by petitions and petitioners ever since – from Imperial China to present day America and every historical moment and geographical locus in between. Around the world petitioning remains a way for people to find redress for grievances.
A grandmother, you bravely chose to return to Iran despite an earlier five-year sentence to which this new one has been added. The Iranian government has none of your bravery. It seems to be afraid of a writer of your talent and stature, a woman whose prizewinning poetry and translations from the classical Arabic have delighted generations, a rare woman who has taught law in her native land and abroad and whose scholarly work on Women, Jurisprudence, Islam (2014) and studies of polygamy have long informed legal thinking in the field and are now banned.
If the state had confidence in its own power and acts, it would hardly need to silence you. We know that if they put you in prison, you will carry on writing and protesting. Injustice doesn’t disappear with the bolt clanging shut on a prison cell. The brutality of the massacre you petitioned against remains a blot on Iran’s history and in the memory of its people. Around the world other writers stand beside you as do the people who have survived their ruler’s misdeeds.
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the great dramatist Harold Pinter asserted that political power was maintained by the creation of a vast tapestry of lies, by keeping people oblivious to the truth. The role of the writer thus becomes to rescue language, to speak truth and stand up to power: ‘I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all.’
Sedigeh, you have done this for many years. We stand beside you.
We hope that the Iranian government will stop short of the injustice of your imprisonment and also recognize the common right of petitioning.
Name: Sedigeh Vasmaghi
Occupation: Theologian, poet, writer and women’s rights activist
Situation: Facing six years in prison. Books banned in Iran.
Send an appeal to the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
- Protest the upholding in October 2020 of the one-year sentence levied against Sedigeh Vasmaghi, and the fact that a previous suspended five-year sentence will be activated leading to a total of six years in prison.
- Point out that she has been convicted on charges that are clear breaches of her right to freedom of expression and association.
- Demand that she not be required to enter prison, and that the charges against her be dropped.
- Ensure that she can continue her legitimate practice as a writer and activist without further hindrance.
- Lift the ban on her publications in Iran.
Drop the charges against #SedigehVasmaghi and lift ban on her publications. #ImprisonedWriter @khamenei_ir [or Twitter handles for other contacts below]
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Grand Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
Address: The Office of the Supreme Leader, Islamic Republic Street, End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran.
Head of the Judiciary
Mr Ebrahim Raisi
Address: c/o Permanent Mission of Iran to the UN, Chemin du Petit-Saconnex 28, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland
Twitter: @Iran_UN (English)
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Address: The Presidency, Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Send copies to the Embassy of Iran in your country: https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/ira
Tell others: share Sedigeh Vasmaghi’s case and her work
- Publish articles and opinion pieces about this case in your national or local press;
- Raise Sedigeh Vasmaghi’s case with academic institutions, specifically departments dealing with Islam and theology, and women’s rights organisations, asking them to take action on her behalf;
- Share information about Sedigeh Vasmaghi and your campaigning via social media; please use #ImprisonedWriter and #SedigehVasmaghi
“You can imprison my body, but never my conscience! I protest against all injustices and oppression, and against the imprisonment of the innocent.” Sedigeh Vasmaghi
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Photo credit: Steven Quigley