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A regime that fears poetry

The website Arseh Sevom reports:

Isa Saharkhiz, Keyvan Samimi and Hila Sedighi are three of the 41 writers to receive 2012 Hellman/Hammett grants, awarded by Human Rights Watch, for their commitment to free expression and their courage in the face of persecution.

Mr. Saharkhiz a veteran journalist arrested shortly after the June 2009 presidential elections. To this day he remains in prison, his health deteriorating. He has long been a voice against government crackdowns on reformists and the lack of media freedom.

Mr. Samimi has been active defending the rights of journalists and the right to education. Since 2009, he has been imprisoned in Iran and is now kept in solitary confinement in Rajaei Shahr prison outside of Tehran. Like many of the prisoners of conscience in prison in Iran, his health is steadily worsening, and he has been consistently denied medical leave.

Ms. Sedighi is a poet whose public recitation of her poem Autumn’s Rain, referring to missing classmates after the demonstrations following the 2009 elections, moved many. She was arrested and interrogated by the Iranian authorities, apparently only because of her poetry, and given a “postponed” sentence of four months in prison.

A video of her recitation [with English subtitles] can be seen on YouTube.

It’s remarkable and moving to watch her words touch an audience so profoundly. No wonder the Iranian regime fears her poetry.

(It’s admirable that Human Rights Watch awards these grants, but it’s unfortunate that they are named in honor of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. Hellman and Hammett were witch-hunted by Congressional committees for their political beliefs during the McCarthy era, and Hammett went to prison. But both were Stalinists who signed a petition supporting the collective insanity of the Moscow purge trials of the 1930s, and never publicly apologized for it. Surely it would be more fitting to name the grants in honor of one or more of Stalin’s victims, not two of his defenders.)