Prisoners

In Response to UN, Tehran Claims Baktash Abtin was 'Terrorism Supporter'

July 26, 2022
Aida Ghajar
4 min read
Baktash Abtin, 48, died of Covid-19 after being jailed for his activities with the Writers' Association of Iran
Baktash Abtin, 48, died of Covid-19 after being jailed for his activities with the Writers' Association of Iran
In a letter to the UN, the Islamic Republic claimed for the first time, and without evidence, that Baktash Abtin was an MEK supporter
In a letter to the UN, the Islamic Republic claimed for the first time, and without evidence, that Baktash Abtin was an MEK supporter

The Islamic Republic of Iran has responded to questions from the United Nations of the death of jailed poet Baktash Abtin by claiming he supported terrorists, documents seen by IranWire show.

The 48-year-old filmmaker and man of letters died of Covid-19 on January 8 this year. He had been jailed in September 2020 along with two other senior members of the Writers’ Association of Iran, for “offences” connected to the group’s activities.

Abtin’s lawyer and family have stated that Evin Prison staff withheld appropriate medical care in the weeks leading up to Abtin’s transferral to Taleghani Hospital. The week after his death, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) petitioned the UN to investigate.

“Deprivation of medical care is deliberately used by the Iranian authorities as a way to eliminate imprisoned dissidents,” Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk, said at the time. “It is time to put a stop to this kind of criminal behaviour, which amounts to state murder.”

Baktash Abtin’s lawyer, Naser Zarafshan, stated that he had informed the prison authorities as early as November 27 that his client was coughing and suffering from worsening, all-over body aches.

Abtin was denied medical care until his transferral to hospital – where he was chained to a bed – on December 5, by which time more than 78 percent of his lungs had been infected. His family were not informed until December 8.

“For six days, neither family nor friends of this journalist knew what he really had,” Zarafshan told RSF. “The guards even refused to let his family bring him a fruit juice.” By December 5, he said, “It was too late.”

IranWire has learned that in February the UN did then send the Islamic Republic a series of questions about Baktash Abtin’s death, in the form of a nine-page letter.

The questions covered the circumstances of Abtin’s arrest, the charges against him, and the extent of his access to medical care in Evin Prison during the last outbreak of Covid-19. Tehran was given a deadline of June 2022 to respond.

The letter also notes that the UN Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman had highlighted multiple past cases of medical negligence – some of them fatal – involving political prisoners in his January report on human rights in Iran. In March the director-general of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, also personally denounced the death of Baktash Abtin.

In its response, according to the documents IranWire has seen, the Islamic Republic's permanent mission to the UN stated that all health facilities in Iranian prisons were in place and functioning at the time of Abtin’s incarceration. It also claimed he had ready access to Evin Prison’s medical services, and that any statement to the contrary was “false”.

The actual charges against Baktash Abtin and his two colleagues 12 months earlier had been “propaganda against the regime", "assembly and collusion against national security” and “encouraging women into corruption and prostitution”.

In their first appearance at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in January 2021, they were told evidence for their guilt lay in their being members of the Writers’ Association, in publishing its internal newsletter, in compiling a 50-year history of the Association, and in visiting the graves of Jafar Pouyandeh and Mohammad Mokhtari, two former members who were killed in 1998 in the state-sponsored chain murders.

But in its response to the UN, the Iranian government claimed, for the first time and without offering evidence, that Baktash Abtin had been a supporter of “terrorist bombers”.

The response stated that Abtin had been “arrested, charged and convicted of committing crimes subject to punishments enumerated in the Islamic Penal Code. Those charges include supporting the MEK terrorist group, supporting terrorist bombers, supporting notorious convicts, supporting street riots, and organizing illegal rallies.

“Concordantly, the claim of conviction and detention for exercising the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights law does not apply to his case.”

At no stage of Baktash Abtin’s trial, or afterward, was any such suggestion made by prosecutors, government officials or the Iranian security apparatus.

Regardless of any official pronouncements, the poet’s family and cellmates in Evin Prison continue to hold that he was intentionally deprived of medical care by the state. In the days leading up to his death, after Abtin was put into an artificial coma in hospital, his wife Maryam Yavari told IranWire’s sister website Journalism is Not a Crime: “They want to kill him.”

The Islamic Republic’s well-documented pattern of depriving prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, of adequate healthcare has come under greater scrutiny over the past 18 months. Earlier this year it was the subject of a dedicated report by Amnesty International, which found at least 65 people had died in custody in five years after being denied medical treatment.

Regional deputy Dina Eltahawy said at the time: “The Iranian authorities’ chilling disregard for human life has effectively turned Iran’s prisons into a waiting room of death for ill prisoners.”

comments

Society & Culture

Who's Behind the Vigilante Mob Shutting Down Concerts in Iran?

July 26, 2022
Maryam Dehkordi
7 min read
Who's Behind the Vigilante Mob Shutting Down Concerts in Iran?