The campaign was named for a pledge the Ayatollah Khomenei made during the 1979 Iranian revolution to protect freedom of expression, a promise that has not been kept. The Iranian-Canadian journalist and documentary filmmaker Maziar Bahari helped kick off the campaign with an op-ed in The International Herald Tribune, which describes his experience after being arrested last year:
Your government had issued me a press card. But I was coerced to make a false televised confession admitting that I was acting as an agent of evil Western media. I was forced to say the media are trying to overthrow the Islamic government. I was beaten and threatened with execution to make that confession. I was beaten again after the show because I did not perform as well as my interrogator would have liked. Yes, Ayatollah Khamenei, I had to apologize to you on television to stop my torturer from punching me in the head.Before last year’s election, the Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour called attention to the restrictions on freedom of expression in his country with a novel, Censoring an Iranian Love Story. (That novel grew out of a story he describes in the essay “The Life of a Word,” published in PEN America 8: Making Histories.)
Mandanipour’s novel was praised last month on the blog of The New York Review of Books by Claire Messud. Censoring an Iranian Love Story, she notes, “is not only directly concerned with contemporary Iran... it is also playfully engaged with Persian literary history, and at the same time, is formally innovative: the influences of Calvino and Kafka are evident in his ironic narrator’s metafictional banter.”
In other news about free expression—and the lack thereof—PEN president Anthony Appiah has expressed his profound disappointment—though not surprise—at the news that the Chinese government has rejected the appeal of Liu Xiaobo's 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power”:
Liu Xiaobo’s three words to the court—‘I am innocent’—stand as an unanswered indictment of the system that condemned him; they will echo in China and around the world until he is released.