NEW YORK – The arrest of poet Hila Sedighi in Tehran this week marks an acceleration in Iran’s crackdown on provocative cultural figures as the country prepares for elections next month, PEN America said in a statement today.

Sedighi was arrested at Imam Khomeini Airport as she returned from the United Arab Emirates on Friday. While authorities did not provide further details, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran suggests the arrest was related to a previous arrest in 2011 for Sedighi’s work on the 2009 presidential campaign of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. In the series of protests that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial re-election, Sedighi also recited poetry at public gatherings organized by the Green Movement, a mass opposition campaign popular among young people. Sedighi was reportedly tried in absentia during the brutal crackdown that followed and sentenced to four months in prison in absentia.

Elections for Iran’s parliament and Islamic Assembly, which will choose a successor to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are set for February 2016.

“With the arrest of Hila Sedighi, Ayatollah Khamenei and his government cement the Supreme Leader’s legacy of unrelenting suppression of dissent,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “As elections approach, the regime is looking to set a rigid blueprint for Khamenei’s potential successor and the country’s future, signaling to all Iranians that any change in leadership will not weaken the Islamic Republic’s hardline ideology.”

Sedighi, a 2012 Hellman/Hammett prize winner for free expression, was released on bail on Saturday, January 9. Her arrest comes amid a surge in attacks on freedom of expression in Iran in the run-up to the elections. In October 2015, poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi were sentenced to 11.5 years and 9 years in jail, respectively, and 99 lashes each on charges including “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state.” In November, Washington Post journalist and dual American-Iranian national Jason Rezaian was reportedly sentenced to prison for espionage activities in a closed-door trial after more than a year behind bars. Dozens of other journalists, artists, and activists have been arrested in the months that followed.

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S. writers working to bring down barriers to free expression worldwide. https://dev.pen.org

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