Iran: Two Poets Sentenced to 99 Lashes for Shaking Hands with Opposite Sex

Iran: Two Poets Sentenced to 99 Lashes for Shaking Hands with Opposite Sex

Image courtesy of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

Two Iranian poets, Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi, have been jailed for their work and sentenced to 99 lashes apiece for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex, the Associated Press reports.

Ekhtesari and Mousavi were sentenced to 11.5 and nine years in prison, respectively, on October 12, 2015, for crimes including ‘insulting the holy sanctities.’ They were also sentenced to 99 lashes each for ‘illicit relations.’ The poets have the right to appeal and are currently free.

On Monday, November 2, 2015, more than one hundred of the most prominent names in poetry, including Robert Pinsky, Claudia Rankine, Billy Collins, John Ashbery, and Tracy K. Smith, sent a joint letter with PEN American Center to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, urging him to nullify their conviction and harsh sentencing. Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center, said, "It is not often that poets join together in a blunt political statement, but this sentence is an affront not just to governments or advocates, but to all who understand that without creativity a culture and society cannot thrive."

PEN Center USA protests the harsh sentences imposed on the poets and lyricists, and calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally quash their sentences.

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Please SIGN the petition at the bottom of this page to join PEN Center USA's appeal to the Iranian authorities:

  • Protesting the conviction and harsh sentencing of poets and lyricists Fatemah Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moosavi;
  • Calling for the Iranian authorities to quash their conviction;
  • Calling also for the immediate and unconditional release of all other writers and journalists currently detained in Iran in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.

Background via PEN American Center

According to PEN American Center’s information, on December 6, 2013, poets and activists Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi were due to travel to Turkey for a literary workshop. At the airport they were both informed that they had been placed under travel bans and were summoned for interrogation. They chose not to appear at the interrogation. Later that day, Mousavi wrote on his Facebook page:

I and Fatemeh Ekthesari were prevented from leaving the country this morning and our passports were confiscated. We do not know the reason… Why have I been facing problems for years to hold a literary workshop and even classes to teach rhyme and meter? Why are our books banned despite taking care to select the poems and passing the censorship of the poet, editor and publisher? Why should the oppositionist swear at me for writing war poetry and the pro-regime activist swear at me for have read a rumour about me?... I have been often in the same conditions as the artist who killed themselves after years of failing to obtain permission. Do you know how many times I have thought about death? What is the body of an artist worth when their soul is tortured and killed?...

Within a few hours, they had disappeared. There was no further news of them until December 24, 2014, when it was confirmed that they were being held in Section 2A of Evin prison, which is under the administration of the Intelligence Division of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and where torture and other ill treatment of detainees is common. Some reports suggested that they were being held because of their lyrics, which have been performed by the Iranian singer-in-exile, Shahin Najafi. The two had previously made statements critical of the government and in support of pro-democracy movements, and had both been under escalating pressure in Iran.

On January 14, 2014, Ekhtesari and Mousavi were released on bail. They had been held in Evin Prison since their detention. According to a Radio Farda interview with their lawyer, both Ekhtesari and Mousavi were convicted of ‘insulting the holy sanctities’, for which they received seven and six-year prison terms, respectively. Mousavi was also sentenced to three years in prison for ‘storing tear gas’ and Ekhtesari was sentenced to 18 months for ‘spreading propaganda against the system’, and to three years for allegedly publishing indecent images on the internet. Both were sentenced to 99 lashes for ‘illicit relations’.

Mehdi Mousavi, born in 1976, is a prolific poet, and has written five collections of poetry, including The Angels Have Committed Suicide (2002), I Only Publish These for You (2005), and The Little Bird Was Neither a Bird nor Little (2010). Two collections of poems entitled Suddenly and Beeping for the Sheep were deemed unpublishable by the authorities. Many more of his poems were published online. Mousavi is known as the leading figure of the ‘Postmodern Ghazal’, the most radical poetic movement in contemporary Iran, known for its rejection of conformist religious and ideological dogma. Most of the works by this movement faced severe censorship by the Iranian officials, and almost all of these works were banned in Iran and have been distributed underground. For some samples of his poetry, click here.

Fatemeh Ekhtesari is a poet and student of Mousavi. She edited the postmodern magazine, Hamin farad bud ("It was the very tomorrow"). Her most recent poetry collection, Feminist discussions before cooking potatoes, was withdrawn from bookshops and the Tehran Book Fair. The following information has been provided from a Facebook page set up by Swedish poets who have worked with Ekhtesari:

During 2013, Fatemeh Ekhtesari, born 1986, has been part of the literary exchange, Resistance At My Writing Desk, through which six poets from Iran and six poets from Sweden together translated the Persian poets’ work to Swedish. The collaboration culminated in a special issue of the journal Kritiker devoted to contemporary Persian poetry, as well as appearances by the Persian poets at the poetry festivals in Stockholm and Göteborg this past September. Upon returning to Iran, Fatemeh was arrested and interrogated for hours. Her Facebook account was hacked and her blog was shut down.

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