Their crime? Persian sonnets. Now they’ve escaped Iran.

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Two Iranian poets fled their country this week. Their crime? Persian sonnets. Iran is cracking down on freedom of expression – and the poets, Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moosavi, were facing floggings and long prison terms. According to the Associated Press:

Mousavi-Ekhtesari

Free at last.

Ekhtesari, a practicing obstetrician, told The Associated Press on Monday that both she and Mousavi, a trained doctor who teaches literature and poetry, escaped from Iran in recent days and made it to another country. She declined to elaborate out of continuing concerns about their safety.

Ekhtesari faced an 11½-year prison sentence, while Mousavi faced nine years on charges ranging from propaganda against the state to “insulting sanctities.” Each also was sentenced to 99 lashings for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex. They likely were targeted because their work is known abroad. Both are self-described “postmodern Ghazal” poets who seek to revive the traditional Persian love sonnet by applying it to contemporary political and social issues.

Hard-liners in the police, judiciary and military view any rapprochement with the West as a threat to the Islamic Republic and a sign of moral decay. That fear saw authorities arrest a group of young Iranian men and women in May 2014 for making a video, showing them dancing to Pharrell Williams‘ song “Happy.”

Those arrested more recently, rights groups and analysts say, serve as pawns in the hard-liners’ struggle with moderates ahead of February’s parliamentary elections.

Among those targeted are 19 reporters imprisoned in Iran, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a December survey, making the Islamic Republic the world’s third-worst jailer of journalists behind China and Egypt. Among the four Iranian-Americans freed in the swap this weekend was Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. A fifth American held in Iran, student Matthew Trevithick, also was released.

The convictions in the two poets’ case were based on forced false confessions, a routine practice in Iran in politically motivated cases in which there is no evidence against the defendant.

iranpoets

Good luck to you both!

“These sentences show that repression in Iran is intensifying,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “Hardliners aren’t just going after political activists, they are determined to stamp out any social or cultural expression with which they disagree.”

The rights group recently learned that filmmaker Keywan Karimi was sentenced to 6 years in prison and 223 lashes on similar charges.

“The Iranian Judiciary is signaling it will brook no dissent, and appears intent to instill fear in the citizenry through these harsh sentences,” said Ghaemi. “Not only are the prosecutions of these poets a violation of Iran’s own laws and its international obligations regarding freedom of expression, lashing has been designated by the UN as tantamount to torture.”

(Photos courtesy International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.)


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