Baktash Abtin, a political prisoner, poet, filmmaker and member of the Iranian Writers’ Association, who had been serving a six-year prison sentence, died on Saturday 8th of January of complications related to a covid-19 infection he had contracted while in custody.
This was the second time that he had contracted Covid-19 in Iran’s notorious Evin prison where prisoners have been saying for over a year that they do not have proper access to healthcare or personal protectives for COVID-19 prevention His lawyer says judicial and prison authorities in Iran deprived Abtin of sufficient access to medical care and transferred him to the hospital too late. 70 Percent of Abtin’s lungs had been damaged with covid-19 related lesions when he was transferred to the hospital.
The Iranian Writers’ Association has repeatedly criticized prison officials for delaying Mr. Abtin’s transfer to the hospital. “The anti-libertarian regime assassinated Baktash Abtin”, the association said in a statement. In recent days, there have been reports of Mr. Abtin’s deteriorating condition. An earlier statement from the Writers’ Association emphasized that he was put in an artificial coma.
Reporters Without Borders tweeted that Abtin, as a political prisoner had been deprived of his right to access to medical treatment and that the organization blamed the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran for his death.
“The worst we could have ever known came true today, and we mourn the completely preventable death of Baktash Abtin” wrote Susan Nussell, director of the American Pen Association (PEN), in a statement. “Covid is a natural deadly agent, but the Iranian government has helped Abtin’s death step by step and paved the way”.
Baktash Abtin was one of the winners of the Institute’s Freedom of Writing Award, and Ms. Nussel described him in her statement as the true flag bearer of freedom of expression.
Baktash Abtin was born in 1974 in Shahr-e-Rey and has made several documentaries in his artistic career, including “October 13, 1937”, a documentary about Loris Cheknavarian, a well-known Iranian conductor and composer; “Homayoun Khoram”, a documentary about this famous Iranian composer and “Ansour”, part of which is about the life of Alisha Shah Molavi, the late poet, a member of the Writers’ Association of Iran. Baktash Abtin has also published several collections of poetry since the mid-1970s.
Statements from the Writers’ Association of Iran
The Writers’ Association of Iran has issued two statements since Jan 8th and has called Abtin a freedom-loving hero and writes that the “anti-libertarian” government “took him” from the Iranian people.
“Baktash Abtin is alive, because the spirit of freedom and struggle against the tyranny and oppression is alive,” the Writers’ Association writes in a second statement.
They add: “The Iranian Writers’ Association considers the rule of the Islamic Republic and its judiciary and security apparatus as the cause, and therefore responsible, for the tragedy of the death and the criminal murder of Baktash Abtin.”
Hours after their first statement, the Writers’ Association released a new announcement detailing Baktash Abtin’s circumstances. The statement says that the prison authorities refused to provide medical care to the political prisoner and from the time he developed symptoms after Covid-19 until Mr. Abtin was transported to the hospital for treatment “10 vital days” passed.
The statement adds: “Baktash Abtin was a freedom-loving and free-thinking poet who lived his short and prolific life based on his views expressed in his compelling poetry; “He wrote about the suffering and joy of the people, lived the anthem of freedom with all his being, and sacrificed his precious life for the freedom and libertarian ideals of the Writers’ Association.”
In the statement, the Writers’ Association also called on independent organizations and human rights defenders to “raise their voices” in protest.
The Iranian Writers’ Association further expressed concern over the situation of three other members of the association and other political prisoners and stressed that Reza Khandan Mahabadi, another member of the organization who is currently in prison on similar charges to Baktash Abtin, was also diagnosed with Covid-19. The Writers’ Association has repeatedly criticized prison officials for delaying Mr. Abtin’s transfer to the hospital and the situation of Iranian covid-19 infested prisons.
Security Forces Disrupt Funeral Gatherings
Abtin’s family had scheduled his funeral to take place on Monday 10th of Jan.
The security forces, however, pressured the family to change the schedule on short notice to Sunday, the 9th of January. Despite the two-hour notice, about 1000 of Abtin’s colleagues, friends and family gathered for his funeral in the south of Tehran.
On Saturday night, 8th of January, users on social media published pictures and videos of a protest gathering in front of the Hospital where Abtin had died earlier. Security forces dispersed the crowd that had gathered in front of the hospital.
Writer and Rights Groups had asked Iran to Release Abtin
Baktash Abtin, together with two other members of the Writers’ Association, Reza Khandan and Keyvan Baghen, were imprisoned last year. The three political prisoners were previously sentenced by the Tehran Revolutionary Court to a total of 15 years and six months in prison on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “conspiracy to act against national security”.
Earlier, HRANA news agency reported that Mr. Abtin was transferred to Evin Prison Medical Center on December 6 and then to Taleghani Hospital in Tehran due to his deteriorating condition. “Finally, on the evening of Monday, December 13, Mr. Abtin’s family and lawyer were able to take a sick furlough to transfer him to another hospital,” HRANA writes
The Pen Association, along with 18 other human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic asking for Mr. Abtin access to the best medical care and the release of him and other writers and prisoners of conscience.
Security Forces have been Harassing Abtin for Years
Nine years ago after the former secretary of the Iranian Writers’ Association was imprisoned, the board of secretaries elected Baktash Abtin for the position. Since then Baktash has always been a dominant member of the Writers’ Association of Iran and security forces have been harassing him since.
In December 2016, security forces and police violently prevented a memorial service for the chain murders of Iranian writers and arrested four members and friends of the association, including Baktash Abtin. After several interrogations, the Iranian judiciary finally sentenced him to six years in prison on political and security charges, along with two other members of the association.
One of the reasons for the persecution of Abtin and his colleagues was their efforts to re-inaugurate the Writers’ Association of Iran which had been banned by the security forces, compiling the history book of the association and also various statements the Association issued since 2016.
The banning of the Writers’ Association of Iran happened after the chain murders of Iran writers in 1988–98 when more than 80 Iranian dissident writers, poets, artists and intellectuals disappeared or were murdered. Some journalists and activists claim that the death of Mr. Abtin is the newest development and continuation of these chain murders.