Belarusian Association of Journalists
Tomorrow’s a day I’ve been looking forward to for more than two years. We haven’t had an in-person gala since 2019, and while we were overjoyed to celebrate virtually last year, nothing compares to being together, uplifting and defending the freedom to write.
Finally, that moment will come Tuesday night here in New York City. We'll be honoring illustrious luminaries like game-changing historian Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., corporate icon Bob Iger, and courageous public health experts Mimi Hall and Gail Newel. And among our presenters, we'll have stars like acclaimed award-winning actress Jodie Foster and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; actor, singer, songwriter, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda; and of course, our host for the evening, the award-winning actress, writer, and producer Awkwafina.
But among those who can’t be with us in person are our PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award winners—Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi—all three of whom are currently being held in Evin Prison for bravely defending free expression and supporting their fellow writers in Iran.
PEN America CEO
For almost a century, imperiled writers around the world have had a stalwart ally in PEN America. And in just the last few years, including in our own country, we’ve seen an alarming increase in attacks on the freedom to write. That’s certainly been the case in Iran, where our three Freedom to Write honorees—writers Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi—have been imprisoned for their writings, defense of free expression and opposition to state censorship, and leadership in protecting and upholding Iran’s rich literary traditions.
Earlier this week, we paid tribute to these three courageous writers, who remain detained in Iran’s Evin Prison, at our annual literary gala. While the evening was a joyous occasion, devoted to celebrating the freedoms that make literature and writing possible, our thoughts remain with our Freedom to Write honorees, as well as all writers who are persecuted and censored.
Thank you for helping to make our work possible.
Karin Deutsch Karlekar
Director, Free Expression at Risk Programs