(Washington, D.C.) — Today PEN America and eighteen other prominent human rights organizations sent a letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of imprisoned writers and those unjustly jailed for exercising their right to free expression, and demanding that political prisoners who contract life-threatening illnesses be given prompt access to appropriate and adequate medical care, including granting them medical parole. Signers include ARTICLE 19, the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Freedom House, Frontline Defenders, Human Rights Watch, and PEN Sydney.

“We echo the call from more than a dozen political prisoners in Ward 8 of Evin prison just a few days ago, in which they hold your government and judiciary responsible for creating the conditions whereby the lives of prisoners of conscience are put at grave risk, and appeal to international human rights organizations in joining them to push for change,” the letter reads.

The renewed call for these basic human rights was prompted when 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honoree Baktash Abtin was placed in a medically-induced coma after contracting COVID-19 for a second time in prison, following delays in sending Abtin to a hospital and in allowing him a medical furlough to be treated under his family’s supervision in a specialist hospital as his condition rapidly deteriorated.

“After being wrongfully imprisoned, Abtin is on his deathbed. Whether it was because of gross medical neglect or the weaponization of COVID-19, the Iranian regime bears responsibility and must provide him and every other prisoner the basic care all humans deserve. Ayatollah Khamenei must listen to the pleas of prisoners at grave risk, of the Iranian Writers Association, and of international organizations joining them in solidarity, and release all unjustly detained prisoners of conscience,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s Director of Free Expression at Risk programs.

According to PEN America’s 2020 Freedom to Write Index, Iran jailed the fourth-highest number of writers and intellectuals globally, with at least 19 behind bars. PEN America advocates on behalf of a number of writers, journalists, creative artists, and activists sentenced or imprisoned for their expression, including Abtin’s colleagues from the Iranian Writers Association, Keyvan Bajan, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and Arash Ganji.

Read the full letter here: https://pen.org/open-letter-supreme-leader-iran-baktash-abtin/