US freedom-of-expression group honors imprisoned Iranian writers

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Freedom of expression non-profit PEN America honored three imprisoned Iranian writers on Tuesday at its annual gala that featured actors Jodie Foster and Awkwafina.

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The literature and human rights organization awarded Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

The trio are serving a combined 15 and a half years in prison for their involvement with Iranian Writers Association (IWA), an anti-censorship group.

PEN paid tribute to them at a star-studded gala at New York’s American Museum of Natural History after last year’s event was held virtually because of the pandemic.

“They are writers who are called not only to offer prose and ideas on a page, but to live fearlessly—and sacrifice immensely in service of the liberties that underpin free thought, art, culture, and creativity,” PEN CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a press release ahead of the event.

Abtin, a poet and screenwriter, novelist and journalist Bajan, and Mahabadi, an author and literary critic, have been imprisoned in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since September last year.

Abtin and Mahabadi contracted coronavirus there and have not received proper hospital treatment for other ailments, according to PEN.

Some 800 guests attended the gala, which is typically the highlight of New York’s literary calendar.

Star of “The Farewell” Awkwafina hosted the event while Foster and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka helped present the awards.

The gala is the latest New York cultural highlight to return following the pandemic after last month’s Met Gala.

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