Mahvash Sabet is an award-winning poet and teacher from Iran. In 2017, she was chosen as the winner of the PEN Pinter Prize for a Writer of Courage by fellow poet Michael Longley.
Having already spent several long years in detention between 2008 and 2017, Mahvash Sabet was once again arrested in Iran in July 2022. She has since been sentenced to a further ten years in prison on spurious charges.
PEN is deeply concerned by reports that Sabet has been subjected to torture in detention. We continue to call for her immediate and unconditional release, and for the release of the many other Iranians currently in detention in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest.
We are honoured to announce Mahvash Sabet as an Honorary Member of English PEN and to feature her in our ongoing PENWrites campaign. Please take a few moments to send her a message of solidarity and hope.
'I did not decide to write poetry: it decided me. Nor did I even choose what to write; the poems did the choosing. They flowed out of me, like a fountain gushing up from inside, bubbling between my lips.'
Mahvash Sabet – PEN Transmissions
Mahvash Sabet is an award-winning poet and teacher from Iran, who in 2017 was named the winner of the PEN Pinter Prize for a Writer of Courage by fellow poet Michael Longley.
One of the group of seven Baha’i leaders known as the Yaran-i-Iran (‘Friends of Iran’), Mahvash Sabet was detained in 2008 along with six others, for their faith and activities related to running the affairs of the Bahá’í community in Iran. They were held for twenty months without charge. Their trial finally began on 12 January 2010, on false charges including espionage, propaganda against the Islamic Republic, and acting against the security of the country. Five months later, on 14 June 2010, each of the defendants was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. These sentences were later reduced to ten years each.
Mahvash Sabet began writing poetry in prison and a collection of her work Prison Poems, adapted from Persian by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, was published in the UK in April 2013 by George Ronald Publisher. As Nakhjavani described in the introduction to the collection, ‘her poems allowed her to speak when words were denied, to talk when no one was listening to her.’
On 18 September 2017, shortly before being named as the Writer of Courage, Sabet was the first of the group to be released from prison, having served almost a decade in detention. She sent the following message to the PEN community following her release
Ten years of my life have just passed behind bars, and as I re-enter the world I find myself given this incredible award. It is a wonder to me and a mystery. Coming back into the light after these ten long years in darkness has not been easy. The changes I see all round me are truly astonishing. The pace of life is overwhelming. But the hardest thing for me is to know that even though I am walking free, many other friends and colleagues still remain behind bars.
So in the midst of my wonder, I am filled with anguish. I am torn between joy and sorrow at this moment. And in thanking you for this great honour, I would like to speak on behalf of all whose rights and freedoms have been deprived.
This is what PEN did for me, by championing my cause. This is what you are doing for so many poets and writers in the world. When I suffered in prison, your compassion sustained me; all through those dark years, your sincere support encouraged me. You are an example of advocacy to people of goodwill everywhere, including journalists and activists among my own compatriots, and even certain clerics in Iran.
Following her release from prison, Mahvash Sabet continued writing – preparing two further collections of poetry and working on her prison memoirs. English PEN is deeply honoured to have published an excerpt of Sabet’s memoirs, translated by Azita Mottahedeh, and edited and adapted by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, on our online magazine PEN Transmissions.
In July 2022, less than five years after her release from prison, Mahvash Sabet was once again arrested by the Iranian authorities and returned to the notorious Evin Prison where she had previously been imprisoned. In November 2022, she was sentenced to a further ten years in prison.
Following her rearrest, Sabet was subject to torture during her interrogation, resulting in both of her kneecaps being broken, and has been denied adequate medical care.
PEN continues to call for Mahvash Sabet’s immediate and unconditional release, and for the release of the many other Iranians currently in detention in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest.