In Iran, jailed poet Baktash Abtin dies for lack of access to healthcare

Before serving his six-year prison sentence, in September 2020, Iranian poet and director Baktash Abtin recorded and posted a video in which he explained his reasons for not fleeing his sentence and his homeland. “What is lacking in our country are people who resist and who fight. This is why I would like to sacrifice my life, with determination, for freedom while I am young ”, said the 48-year-old Iranian. On January 8, he died in a Tehran hospital from complications from Covid-19 he contracted at the infamous Evin prison.

In a detailed statement, the Iranian Writers Association – an independent organization that fights against censorship and for freedom of expression to which Baktash Abtin belonged – bluntly accuses the Iranian regime of having killed “Deliberately” the poet. The latter’s jailers delayed his access to vital care, taking ten days before transferring him to a hospital where he was finally taken care of, on December 13, 2021. “At that time, he was just a half-living body”, can we read in this press release. The organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also accused the Iranian authorities of being responsible for the death of the poet, for having deprived him of the right to access healthcare.

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In 2019, Baktash Abtin was convicted along with two other members of the Iranian Writers Association, Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, for “gathering and colluding against national security” and “propaganda” against the Islamic Republic. The poet was arrested in 2016 while participating in the commemoration ceremony for intellectuals killed in 1999 by Iranian intelligence. At the time, the reformist president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) had, in an unprecedented gesture, recognized the responsibility of certain agents. However, paying homage to the victims of this dark episode or mentioning them in the press remains impossible, if not risky.

Hardening of repression

In September 2021, Mr. Abtin and his co-defendants received the PEN-Barbey Freedom to Write Award, awarded by the writers’ rights group PEN America to honor their commitment.

Baktash Abtin’s funeral took place on Sunday January 9 in the south of the capital. The day of the ceremony was changed under pressure from the intelligence services who wanted to prevent the presence of a large crowd. Some participants at the funeral chanted slogans against the Iranian regime, “This free poet is the tyrant’s nightmare! “ and “Death to the murderous government!” “

Since the death of Baktash Abtin, one of the photos of his period of hospitalization has become a symbol of his commitment and the injustice he suffered. In this shot, shared widely on social media, the gray-haired man is lying on a hospital bed reading a book. Dressed in a blue prison uniform, her ankles are chained to each other.

In recent years, dozens of political prisoners have lost their lives in Iranian jails due to the authorities’ refusal to provide them with access to health care. Baktash Abtin is the best known of these victims, testifying to the hardening of repression in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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In Iran, jailed poet Baktash Abtin dies for lack of access to healthcare