PEN International mourns the death of the prominent writer, poet, and filmmaker Baktash Abtin who passed away on Saturday battling Covid-19 in Tehran hospital. PEN International holds the Iranian authorities fully responsible for the death of Baktash Abtin and calls for an urgent investigation into the medical negligence that led to his death.
PEN International also raises concerns over prominent writer Reza Khandan-Mahabadi’s health condition as he is still recovering from Covid-19 after being released from the hospital last week. PEN International stresses that Mahabadi should not be sent back to jail and should have adequate time to recover fully.
PEN International renews its call on Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release prominent writers Reza Khandan-Mahabadi and Keyvan Bazhan, and to drop all charges against them.
Responding to Abtin’s death, Burhan Sonmez, president of PEN International, said, “the PEN community is deeply saddened by Baktash Abtin’s death which could have been prevented if the Iranian authorities had the basic respect for human life. We mourn the loss of a great writer and a fierce fighter for freedom of expression. Abtin and his fellow writers Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bazhan should never have been charged or imprisoned but celebrated and honoured. Abtin’s death stands a clear reminder of the colossal risks faced by independent writers in Iran and the paramount need to free all writers unjustly imprisoned because of their writings.”
Abtin contracted Covid-19 at Evin prison for the second time in November 2021. His health condition deteriorated as authorities denied him urgent medical care for ten days. He was later transferred to Taleghani Hospital, but his family and lawyers appealed to the authorities to transfer him to a private hospital as his condition worsened. However, his condition continued to deteriorate, resulting in him being put into a medically induced coma before he passed away days later.
His fellow writer Reza Khandan-Mahabadi has also contracted Covid-19. Authorities transferred him to Taleghani Hospital, but his family and lawyers could transfer him to a private hospital for better medical care. Reza was recently released from the hospital, and doctors continue to treat him at home. PEN International has learned that he is at risk of being sent back to jail before his full recovery.
In June 2020, then-president of PEN Sydney, Mark Isaacs, interviewed Baktash Abtin and Reza Khandan-Mahabani, where they spoke of the long history of censorship of writers, the details of their trial and challenges to freedom of expression in Iran. In his closing comments, Baktash Abtin said:
“[…] We, with complete knowledge of the risks, will emphasise our defined obligation, which is to fight for freedom of expression and against censorship. But we expect all our friends, writers, intellectuals and those who fight for freedom of expression around the world to support us, especially while they do not have a similar horrible situation like us.”
Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, Baktash Abtin and Keyvan Bazhan are members of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA), and each has published numerous books of Iranian history, sociology and literary criticism. In May 2019, the 28th Branch of the Revolutionary Court sentenced all three writers to six years’ imprisonment for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “assembly and collusion against national security.” Their conviction stemmed from their joint authorship of a book about the history of the IWA, which has for decades been critical of successive Iranian governments.
For more information, please contact Mina Thabet, MENA Regional Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: Mina.Thabet@pen-international.org
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PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088