The brother of Baktash Abtin, an imprisoned poet and filmmaker who died of Covid-19 earlier this month, said he was in a “critical condition” by the time prison guards sent him to hospital – and the ankle cuff he was made to wear there left him with further injuries. In an interview with the Iranian website Hadase (Incident) 24, Arman Kazemi added that his family had filed a lawsuit against those they believe to be responsible.
Baktash Abtin, birth name Mehdi Kazemi, was sentenced to six years in prison and jailed alongside two other members of the Iranian Writers’ Association in the middle of the pandemic. He was infected with coronavirus in Evin Prison and died at noon on Saturday, January 8 at the Sasan Hospital in Tehran. In an interview with IranWire, people close to the case have said prison officials deliberately held off on granting him access to acute care.
"Those who were in prison were the sole eyewitnesses to the situation,” Arman Kazemi said. “We heard it, but they saw it. By the time my brother was taken from prison to hospital, his physical condition was so bad that we could hear just a few of the words that came out of his mouth. There had been a time [earlier on] when his physical condition was such that he could still speak and convey a story to us directly. But when he got to hospital he could barely speak.”
Advocacy groups including the Writers’ Association, PEN America and Reporters Without Borders have blamed the authorities for Abtin’s “utterly preventable” death. In his interview with Hadase 24, Arman Kazemi said he agreed. His brother had pre-existing health conditions, he said, but was denied medical leave for nearly a month and then sent back to prison from Taleghani Hospital multiple times.
“All the medical records related to his illness were communicated by his lawyers nearly a year ago,” he said. “The onset of symptoms was on November 27, 2021, but his leave was granted from December 13. Both the first and the last time he was sent back from Taleghani Hospital to prison, he was chained up; the ankle cuff they had applied was such that after we were able to take him to a private hospital for a few days, my brother's wife had to treat the injury until the bruises were healed.
“The second time they had put on the ankle cuff, it not only restricted my brother, but severely affected him mentally and emotionally, adding to his stress. His illness was at its peak and he could not go to the toilet; a catheter was attached to him. Certainly, if he had had the ability to move, he would not have needed a catheter. He was nevertheless chained to the bed.”
Before Baktash Abtin's death, one of his relatives told IranWire’s Persian team that both the judge and security officials overseeing the case had deliberately ignored his deteriorating condition, going so far as to call it “premeditated murder”. “The doctors have done their best,” they said, “but I don’t know how much hope we have for his return. More than 90 percent of his lungs are afflicted. I don’t know what to say but a curse on these murderers and oppressors."