CHRI – The death of Iranian poet Baktash Abtin today in Tehran after contracting COVID-19 in Evin Prison is the result of the Iranian judiciary chief’s inhumane treatment of prisoners and the government’s refusal to hold responsible officials accountable.
Abtin, who died after being put into an induced coma while hospitalized, is the second known political prisoner to die in Iran in the first week of 2022. On January 1, Kian Adelpour died after going on hunger strike to protest being imprisoned without a fair trial.
“This is a preventable tragedy and more prisoners’ deaths are inevitable because there is no accountability in the Iranian government,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “Abtin was imprisoned in Iran because the government wanted to muzzle him with a jail cell; the state killed him.”
“The Iranian government is killing people to suppress free speech and crush freedom of thought,” Ghaemi added. “Two political prisoners are dead in Iran in one week. Judiciary Chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei is responsible and must be held accountable.”
According to Iranian law, the State Prisons’ Organization and judiciary chief to which it reports are responsible for the safety and security of all prisoners.
While offering condolences to Abtin’s family and friends, the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) where Abtin, 48, was a board member, released a statement on January 8 on the “injustice that was committed against Abtin.”
“Baktash Abtin is alive because the spirit of freedom-seeking and the fight against tyranny and injustice is alive,” said the statement.
Writers who refuse to abide by arbitrary censorship rules in Iran are subject to harassment by intelligence agencies and prosecution without due process.
Abtin had been serving a five-year prison sentence on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.”
Fellow IWA board member Reza Khandan Mahabadi was also sentenced to five years in prison and Keyvan Bajan to three years and six months.
Engaging in any form of dissent that can be deemed critical of state policies in Iran can result in the accused individual being targeted by the intelligence-security establishment and imprisoned on trumped-up national security charges.
At least 11 writers are known to be either currently imprisoned or living with an unserved prison sentence hanging over their heads in Iran as they await an appeal or to be summoned to jail, according to a list compiled by CHRI.
These writers were all unjustly targeted by intelligence agencies and the judiciary for practicing and advocating freedom of speech.
The Iranian government has essentially criminalized freedom of expression and speech, despite Article 28 of Iran’s Charter on Citizens’ Rights, which calls on the government to “promote and develop the culture of accepting criticism, tolerance, and compromise.”
Iranian law also stipulates that individuals should not be targeted for their beliefs.
In an interview with CHRI in May 2019 after his trial, Abtin forcefully said the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security” was for statements published by the IWA, articles in the organization’s internal newsletter, and holding memorial ceremonies for IWA members Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, who were murdered in 1998 as part of a concerted state policy to eliminate political and cultural dissidents inside and outside of Iran.
“Nowhere in the world is it necessary to get a permit to gather around someone’s grave,” Abtin told CHRI. “But that’s what we’ve been charged with.”