To the Editors:
On June 22, 1981, Saeed Sultanpour was executed by firing squad. One of Iran’s leading poets and playwrights, Sultanpour was arrested in April and charged with illegal trafficking in foreign exchange. If, in fact, such a crime had been committed, death seems hardly the appropriate punishment. Yet, even more alarming, his execution has impelled the entire intellectual and writing community of Iran to seek hiding—a development which suggests Sultanpour’s real crime was the frank expression of opinions, and his sentence, a death knell for those who have openly criticized the policies of the present Iranian regime.
Earlier this year, Sultanpour joined approximately one hundred other distinguished writers and intellectuals in signing and circulating an open letter to the people of Iran published in The New York Review of June 11. This letter was supportive of the revolution but highly critical of the Iranian government’s suppression of human and democratic rights and of its blatant disdain of art and culture. Within the past year in Iran, a virulent campaign has been waged by the clergy-dominated government to silence political discussion and censor cultural expression. Universities, libraries, and museums have been closed, books have been destroyed, and the practice of all art forms threatened. Journalists have been removed from their newspapers. Independent publishing houses and professional associations, such as the Writers Association of Iran—on whose executive board Saeed Sultanpour served—have all been taken over by the Iranian government. Poets, scholars, journalists, and publishers now fear for their lives.
We, writers and scholars from many countries and of various political perspectives, join in our concern for the precarious existence of these men and women. The pall that has descended upon a vibrant cultural and intellectual life should not be tolerated by anyone who values the free exchange of ideas as an irreducible human right. We appeal to our colleagues in all nations to urge their governments to protest the harassment and repression of the Iranian intellectual community and to demand that the rulers of Iran account for this indefensible violation of the right to cultural integrity and peaceful expression. (The following is a partial list of signers.)
Walter Abish, Aijaz Ahmad, Eqbal Ahmad, Edward Albee, John Ashbery, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Heinrich Böll, Kamal Boullata, Ampie Coetzee, Henry Steele Commager, Edmundo Desnoes, E.L. Doctorow, Ralph Ellison, Richard Falk, Jules Feiffer, Leslie Fiedler, Frances FitzGerald, Eliot Fremont-Smith, John Gardner, Richard Gilman, Nadine Gordimer, Francine du Plessix Gray, Jerzy Kosinski, Bernard Malamud, Arthur Miller, Lewis Mumford, Joyce Carol Oates, Alan Paton, Chaim Potok, David Rabe, Philip Roth, Edward W. Said, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Mary Lee Settle, B.F. Skinner, Mark Strand, Barbara Tuchman, John Updike, Ernst van Heerden, Mario Vargas Llosa, Derek Walcott, Per Wästbert, Elie Wiesel, William Appleman Williams
August 13, 1981