Jailed Iranian writer in Covid-19 coma after ‘prison neglect’

Baktash Abtin was one of three men jailed in 2019 for their involvement in anti-censorship campaigning

Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Baktash Abtin, and Keyvan Bajan. Photo: PEN America

An Iranian writer whose jailing led to a worldwide campaign for his release is in a coma in a Tehran hospital after contracting Covid-19 at Evin prison, rights groups said.

Baktash Abtin, 48, who is serving a six-year sentence for “propagating against the regime” and other charges, was placed into an induced coma after supporters said that authorities delayed his transfer to hospital for ten days.

Mr Abtin was one of three writers jailed in May 2019 on national security and propaganda charges owing to their links with the Iranian Writers’ Association, a group that has been banned since the 1980s but has continued to campaign against censorship.

Iranian rights groups published a photo of Mr Abtin lying in his hospital bed with an oxygen mask after his condition deteriorated.

Dozens of writers from around the world, including Margaret Atwood, Orhan Pamuk and J.M. Coetzee, signed a letter to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in October last year urging him to release the three men.

The trio, Mr Abtin, Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Keyvan Bajan, all served on the board of the IWA and were joint authors of a book about the history of the group, which has been critical of successive governments for decades.

They were also punished for organising memorial ceremonies for members who had been killed by the state in the 1990s.

“The suffering he [Mr Abtin] has suffered this month is a direct result of the actions of the government and the prison guards,” said the IWA in a tweet.

He was taken to hospital from Evin last month but his condition worsened over the New Year. All three men have had health problems behind bars but have been denied medical treatment, say campaigners.

A group of Evin political prisoners have blamed the prison and judicial authorities for turning a “treatable and preventable” medical case into a matter of life and death. The group, whose supporters posted the statement, blamed the authorities for delaying medical leave and not sending sick prisoners to hospital quickly enough.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran said that at least 11 writers are either currently in jail or have been convicted. They have all been targeted for “practising and advocating freedom of speech”, the US-based organisation said.

Executive director Hadi Ghaemi said: “We are extremely concerned for all prisoners in Iran and call on the UN and governments worldwide, especially those now in negotiations with Iran, to demand that political prisoners be freed and that all prisoners be allowed fair trials and access to proper medical treatment, food and safe shelter.”

Updated: January 4th 2022, 11:32 AM