Three Iranian Dissidents to Be Honored by PEN America 

Three imprisoned Iranian dissidents will be honored next month at Pen America’s annual gala. 

The literary and human rights organization announced Thursday that writer-filmmaker Baktash Abtin, novelist-journalist Keyvan Bajan and author-critic Reza Khandan Mahabadi are this year’s recipients of the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. All three are members of the anti-censorship Iranian Writers Association and are serving a collective 15.5 years on charges including endangering national security and “spreading propaganda.” 

“Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi are embodiments of the spirit that animates our work at PEN America.” 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 America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement. 

“By taking up the mantle of leadership within Iran’s literary community, they have served as beacons for countless authors and thinkers whose ability to imagine, push boundaries, and challenge repression under the most dangerous conditions is fed by the knowledge that they do not stand alone.” 

The PEN gala is scheduled for Oct. 5 at its longtime venue the American Museum of Natural History, with Awkwafina serving as host and others receiving awards including scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Walt Disney Chairman Robert Iger. Last year’s ceremony was held online because of the pandemic. 

The Freedom to Write Award, given to artists and writers jailed for their work, has been awarded to Russian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and the Chinese writer-activist Xu Zhiyong among others. According to PEN, 44 out of the previous 48 honorees have since been freed. 

PEN has not yet determined who will accept the award on behalf of this year’s winners. 


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