The Writers' Association of Iran has condemned the ongoing incarceration of four of its members, all four of whom recently came down with Covid-19, alleging medical negligence by the authorities and calling their treatment a continuation of the chain murders.
On Thursday, January 6, the Association once again called for the immediate release of Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and Arash Ganji. The four are being held in Evin Prison and all tested positive for coronavirus in December. In particular the statement raised the alarm over the status of Baktash Abtin, who is still severely ill in hospital and has been in a medically induced coma since January 3.
“Last month we learned four members of the Writers' Association of Iran had contracted Covid-19 in Evin Prison,” the statement read. “The condition of two of them, Abtin and Khandan Mahabadi, was worrying. They were left for several days without any effective treatment, despite the obvious signs of illness.
“Abtin was taken to hospital overnight, his inmates and family unaware. Government officials did not stop harassing him, securing his half-dead body to the bed in Taleghani Hospital in Tehran with shackles and chains, in the heavy presence of security forces. The guards only let him out after his lungs had become infected and his health had severely deteriorated. The first days, hours, perhaps moments of medical care, which are vital part of treatment, were totally lost. The same thing happened to Reza Khandan Mahabadi.
"Today Baktash Abtin is fighting for his life. Doctors put him into an artificial coma several days ago: this indicates a final struggle to survive.”
Baktash Abtin, a poet and filmmaker, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, author and literary critic, and Keyvan Bajan, writer and journalist, were sentenced to six years, six years and three and a half years in prison respectively in May 2019, based solely on their inocuous activities with the Writers’ Association. They were summoned to Evin Prison to begin their sentences on September 27 last year, while coronavirus infections were still surging.
In its statement, the Writers’ Association drew parallels between their treatment and the chain murders: the state-sponsored serial killings of Iranian dissidents and intellectuals in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “We had just come back from unfinished commemorations of the 23rd anniversary of the persecution Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh [two writers murdered in Iran in 1998]. Yesterday's murderers were not rogue elements, but prison guards and interrogators. They used to kill with knives and ropes, and today [they kill] by filing cases, taking prisoners to the slaughterhouse, leaving the sick prisoners alone to a gradual death.”
Paying tribute to the as-yet unknown number of prisoners who had lost their lives to Covid-19 and delays in the system, the Writers’ Association went on: “"[They] have fallen victim to the repression by the system that has brought nothing but poverty, corruption and superstition.
"The oppressive rulers, perpetrators and agents of the Islamic Republic, in their raw imagination, want to send a message to all protesting people by deliberately arresting and silently killing independent and freedom-loving writers. They ask them to give up, unaware that the Writers' Association of Iran will not back down from its aspirations.
“The Association will never leave its friends alone, and will be by their side until they are fully healed. But this does not allay the responsibility of the government. It is the unquestionable duty of the prison guard to protect the health of the prisoner, and the government of the Islamic Republic is responsible for the consequences of anything that happens to imprisoned writers – especially Baktash Abtin."