Iran: Mahvash Sabet

Teacher and poet Mahvash Sabet is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in Evin prison, Tehran. One of a group of seven Baha’i leaders known as the ‘Yaran-i-Iran’ (‘Friends of Iran’), Sabet has been detained since 2008 for her faith and activities related to running the affairs of the Bahá’í community in Iran.

Today, 14 May, marks the launch of the Seven Bahá’ís Seven Years campaign, a global campaign being coordinated by the Bahá’í International Community to mark the  7th anniversary of the incarceration of Mahvash Sabet and her colleagues. It will run for seven days, 14– 20 May, with each day dedicated to raising awareness about one of the seven leaders. For more information and to get involved visit their website.

To mark the opening of the campaign, English PEN are pleased to republish a letter written by multi-award winning author Alberto Manguel to Mahvash Sabet on the occasion of last year’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer.

Dear Mahvash Sabet,

It’s almost an impertinence, I feel, to write to a poet who is being kept behind bars for her words and beliefs. King Lear, imprisoned at the end of the play with his daughter Cordelia, tells her that they will become ‘God’s spies.’ That is what you as well have become, bearing witness to society’s injustices, prejudices and inability to understand that no matter what society might do to a poet, the poet’s words will still be free in the minds of the readers, and continue to conjure up ideas, engage the mind in conversation. Perhaps there’s consolation in this.

You end one of your poems saying that ‘You can’t see the sorrow after lights out,’ and that you therefore ‘long for the dark, total black-out.’I hope, for your dear sake, that the end of your sorrow is near but not as that ‘total black-out’ you speak of: instead, as a resolution of freedom, as the free sunlight that is every person’s natural right, a right no one is entitled to take away.

I don’t know if you can find comfort in realizing that you have now been welcomed into a vast and honoured company of imprisoned writers, from all centuries and all tongues, from Boethius to Abu Nuwas, Cervantes, Yevgenia Ginzburg, Nazim Hikmet and hundreds of others, and that generations of readers to come will remember your name as they remember theirs, long after the names of your jailers have been swept off the memory of the earth.

I can’t offer you anything in your cell except my devotion as your reader, my trust in better times, and my distant but sincere friendship. I hope that in the very near future we will meet in person, not only on the page.

With very best wishes of hope and courage,

Alberto Manguel

If you would like to send a letter of support to Mahvash Sabet you can do so via the comments box or by emailing

For further suggested actions, please visit the PEN International website.


About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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