After COVID poet dies in Iranian prison, activists accuse Tehran

PARIS (AFP) – Dissident Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin died in custody in Tehran after falling ill with COVID-19, human rights groups said on Saturday, angrily accusing republic leaders Islamic cause of his death.

“Baktash Abtin has passed away,” the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) said in a statement broadcast on its Telegram channel after the author was in a medically induced coma in hospital earlier in the week.

Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) confirmed his death in a statement on Twitter, saying he “had been unfairly sentenced to six years in prison and was in custody at the hospital, sick with COVID-19 and deprived of necessary care.

“RSF blames the regime authorities for his death,” he added, posting a photo of Abtin in a striped Iranian prisoner uniform, chained by the leg to a hospital bed.

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), said “Baktash Abtin died because the Iranian government wanted to muzzle him in jail.”

“It is a preventable tragedy. The head of Iranian justice [Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie] must be held accountable, ”Ghaemi added.

Abtin was convicted along with two IWA colleagues in 2019 for “rallying and colluding against national security” and “propaganda against the system”. He had started serving his sentence at Evin prison in Tehran in 2020.

Along with his accused colleagues Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Abtin received the PEN / Barbey Freedom to Write award in September 2021 from the writers’ rights group PEN America.

“Our worst fears materialized today as we mourn the utterly preventable death of Baktash Abtin,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America.

“COVID is a natural killer, but Abtin’s death has been aided and abetted by the Iranian government every step of the way,” she said, adding that he had previously been denied medical treatment, that the underlying conditions had been ignored and that he was sometimes chained to his bed. .

In recent months, activists have become increasingly concerned about the deaths of prisoners in custody in Iran, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which activists say is raging in Iranian prisons.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Norwegian-based NGO Iran Human Rights, said that “the government that jailed this author, and [Supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei, are directly responsible for the murder of Baktash Abtin. They must be held accountable. “

In this undated screenshot from a video shared with The Associated Press by a self-identified hacker group called “The Justice of Ali”, a guard beats a prisoner at Evin Prison in Tehran , in Iran. (Ali’s Justice via AP)

In September, Amnesty International published a study accusing Iran of failing to report at least 72 deaths in custody since January 2010, “despite credible reports that they were the result of torture or other ill-treatment.”

A group calling themselves Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) posted videos of leaked surveillance footage from Evin Prison in Tehran last August showing guards beating or mistreating inmates.

At least 11 writers are known to be currently imprisoned in Iran or are living with an unfulfilled prison sentence pending a summons to prison, according to a list compiled by CHRI.

The IWA was founded in May 1968 under the Shah’s imperial rule by an independent group of Iranian-based writers to fight state censorship of literature in the country.

The charges against Abtin and his two colleagues concerned working on documents on the history of the IWA and attending memorial ceremonies in memory of members killed in the so-called “chain murders” of intellectuals in the 1990s that activists blame on the government.

Nossel said: “We will remember Abtin as a gifted poet and filmmaker, but also as a courageous thinker and honorable advocate.”

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