Baktash Abtin, dissident Iranian poet, dies of Covid on prison furlough

The dissident Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin has died of Covid-19 in hospital after being released on a furlough from prison where he was infected.

Abtin was transferred to hospital in the capital Tehran “but the treatment did not succeed and he died”, the semi-official ISNA news agency said on Saturday.

PEN America, a human rights group, said on Twitter: “Covid is a natural killer, but Abtin’s death was aided and abetted by the Iranian government every step of the way.”

Abtin was also hospitalised last year, when a picture showing him apparently shackled to a bed caused an uproar on social media, prompting the head of Iran’s prisons, Mohammad Mehdi Hajmohammadi, to tweet that those responsible had been “dealt with”.

Abtin, 48, who was serving a six-year sentence for “anti-government propaganda”, died shortly after PEN America and 18 other rights groups voiced concern over his treatment in a letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Unfortunately, mistreatment of prisoners and denial of medical care is a systemic problem in Iranian prisons,” said the letter, posted on the website of Human Rights Watch.

Iran denies any mistreatment and its prisons directorate said Abtin was granted furlough 35 days ago to be moved to a private hospital by his relatives, state media reported.

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