Poets urge Iran's supreme leader to pardon imprisoned wordsmiths
In a letter published on the PEN America website, the poets urged Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to immediately nullify the sentences handed out to Mehdi Mousavi, 41, and 31-year-old Fatemeh Ekhtesari.
"We are deeply concerned by the inhumane sentences levied against Ms Ekhtesari and Mr Mousavi for the simple act of expressing themselves by creating art," said the letter.
"The act of writing poetry is no crime. Freedom of expression, a fundamental right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, allows creativity to flourish and promotes the creation of great literature," it continued.
|They have been found guilty of insulting religion and spreading propaganda against the state|
Mousavi and Ekhtesari face 99 lashes each and a total of 20 years in jail.
They were first arrested in December 2013, but then released on bail after Shahin Najafi, an exiled German-based Iranian rapper, used their lyrics in two of his albums.
The lashes were handed out for shaking hands with unrelated members of the opposite sex, which is presumed to be each other, said the Guardian.
Last month a court in Tehran found them guilty of insulting religion and spreading propaganda against the state.
In the letter addressed to Khamenei, the poets asked him not to cloud Iran's "long and proud literary history" by the "cruel and unwarranted treatment of these two writers".
They said that the harsh sentences "form part of a disturbing pattern of escalating pressure on artists and cultural figures, as well as journalists including the Washington Post's Jason Rezaian".
Rezaian, an American-Iranian reporter, was convicted in Iran in October on espionage charges.
On 3 November, the Iranian ILNA news agency said Iranian authorities had arrested two pro-reform journalists. One had recently criticised Khamenei and the other had previously been arrested for acting against national security.
Human Rights Watch yesterday also called for the immediate release of the detained writer and blogger Mohammad Reza Pourshajari, who is being held despite his prison sentence expiring.
Pourshajari was convicted of "propaganda against the state" on 11 March 2015 after he published a number of articles on his blog criticising the Iranian authorities.