On 24 August 2019 Kioomars Marzban, a 27-year-old satirical writer from Iran, was sentenced to 23 years and 3 months in prison. He was found guilty on five separate charges, given a two-year travel ban, and a two-year ban on publishing or using social media.
Marzban left Iran in 2009 and had been living in Malaysia for nearly a decade, from where he wrote for Iranian diaspora programmes, including Radio Farda and the London-based media network Manoto. He returned to Iran to spend time with his sick grandmother in early 2018. On his return, he began leading creative writing workshops and had referred to some of his work abroad.
In early September 2018, authorities arrested Marzban on charges relating to his satirical writing. They raided his house and confiscated his laptop, mobile phone, and writing materials. He was only permitted to appoint a lawyer several months after being detained.
Following his arrest, a website affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) falsely claimed that Marzban had travelled to the United States in order to set up an anti-Iranian media outlet. The website said that the outlet would have been “aimed at inflaming the people and creating social divisions”. Marzban is understood to have only ever travelled to Georgia (in the Caucasus) during his time in Malaysia.
The IRGC also accused Marzban of cooperating with the human rights organisation Freedom House, which according to them is “a project of American intelligence to push the issue of human rights internationally through media organisations”.
Marzban was sentenced to 11 years for “communicating with America’s hostile government”, 7 years and 6 months for “insulting the sacred”, 3 years for “insulting the [supreme] leader”, 1 year and 6 months for “propaganda against the state”, and 9 months for “insulting officials”.
Condemning the sentencing of Kioomars Marzban, Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, said “Kioomars has been given a sentence that would put him in jail for almost as long as he has been alive, meaning he would not be freed until 50. And all because he poked fun at power through writing. We urge satirists worldwide to condemn his jailing and for states who claim to support freedom of expression to demand his immediate release ”.