When imprisoned Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin died in a Tehran hospital, rights groups were quick to point the finger at the authorities.
The 48-year-old dissident died on January 8 after contracting COVID-19 twice in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. Doctors had placed Abtin, who was suffering from coronary heart disease, in a medical coma before being transferred to hospital.
Rights activists say Abtin, a prominent writer and free speech advocate, was denied proper medical treatment and blamed the authorities for his death.
Accusing the authorities of negligence, a group of fellow political prisoners went on a hunger strike days after Abtin’s death. The protest sought to highlight the systematic mistreatment of detainees and the denial of medical care in Iranian prisons.
On January 16, six prisoners in Evin prison stopped eating and drinking. After several days, they started drinking but still refused to eat. At least three other prisoners — at Gharchak Women’s Prison and Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary — have joined the hunger strike.
The Iranian Writers Association, of which Abtin was a member, called on protesting prisoners to end their hunger strike and not put their lives at risk.
“This hunger strike has been widely reported in Iran and around the world, and it shows that the prisoners achieved their goal of protesting against the criminal murder of Baktash Abtin,” the association said in a statement.
Despite the appeal, six prisoners are still refusing to eat, despite pressure from prison authorities and their deteriorating physical condition, a source in contact with some of the prisoners told RFE/RL.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the authorities, said the detainees are demanding ‘deterrent’ action against those responsible for Abtin’s ‘murder’ in order to prevent such incidents in the future.
The source added that the prison authorities prevented the inmates on hunger strike from making phone calls and having visitors. The prisoners were also told they would only receive medical treatment if they ended their strike, the source said.
An inmate was transferred to a ward holding an apolitical prisoner in a bid to pressure him to start eating, the source said, adding that two other prisoners were transferred from Evin Prison to the Central Penitentiary of Greater Tehran. Conditions at this facility have in the past been described as “appalling”.
“These political prisoners are trying to warn the world of an impending disaster in Iranian prisons,” Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told RFE/RL. “The situation is so urgent and frightening that they are starving to be heard.”
Abtin was serving a six-year prison sentence linked to his ties to the Iranian Writers Association, whose members frequently come under pressure from the authorities, and his visits to the graves of victims of alleged political assassinations. He was found guilty of “anti-government propaganda”.
He had been imprisoned along with two other board members of the Iranian Writers Association – Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Keyvan Bajan – since September 2020. In October, the advocacy group PEN America jointly awarded the three writers the PEN/Barbey Freedom To Write Award.
Abtin’s imprisonment amid the coronavirus pandemic has been harshly criticized by rights watchdogs.
“Neglected in Iran’s Evin Prison, his death was entirely preventable,” Suzanne Nosel, executive director of PEN America, said in a Jan. 8 statement. declaration. “COVID is a natural killer, but Abtin’s death was aided and abetted by the Iranian government every step of the way.”
Nossel described Evin prison as a “perpetual super-spreader” and said Abtin’s existing medical issues meant his confinement at the facility was “an effective death sentence”.
“Abtin was denied medical treatment, his co-morbidities were ignored and he was sometimes chained to his bed,” she said.
Abtin’s brother, Arman Kazemi, said the shackles hurt his ankles and put him under psychological stress. Kazemi added that Abtin was chained even though he was barely able to move or speak.
Kazemi slammed authorities for not sending Abtin to a hospital sooner for treatment.
“When my brother was taken from prison to hospital, his physical condition was so bad that we could only hear some of the words that came out of his mouth,” he told the news site. Iranian. Hadese24.ir January 26.
Death in prison
A week before Abtin’s death, political prisoner Adel Kianpur died at Sheiban prison in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.
He had been on a week-long hunger strike to protest his imprisonment, according to the Ahvaz Human Rights Organization. Rights groups said Kianpur was convicted without due process or evidence against him. He was serving a three-year sentence for national security reasons.
Iranian justice later claimed that Kianpur had not started a hunger strike and that he had died suddenly after being transferred to a hospital.
“This is a pandemic and at least two political prisoners have died in Iran this month alone, one due to COVID-19, the other after a hunger strike,” Ghaemi said. . “Neither of them would have lost their lives like this if they hadn’t been arbitrarily imprisoned.”
Ghaemi called on the Iranian authorities to release all political prisoners.
Dozens of prisoners are believed to have died in Iranian prisons due to ill-treatment, including beatings and torture, and a lack of proper medical care.
Last year,Amnesty International said Iranian authorities have not reported at least 72 deaths in prison since January 2010.
The rights group said it believed the true number of deaths in custody was likely much higher due to the lack of transparency in Iran’s justice system.
Dozens of political prisoners, including prominent human rights defenders such as Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi, have gone on hunger strike in recent years to protest their imprisonment and conditions of detention.