(New York, NY) — Imprisoned Iranian poet, filmmaker, and recipient of the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award Baktash Abtin died in a Tehran hospital, succumbing to COVID-19. 

“Our worst fears materialized today, as we mourn the utterly preventable death of Baktash Abtin,” said PEN America’s Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “COVID is a natural killer, but Abtin’s death was aided and abetted by the Iranian government every step of the way. Tehran’s Evin prison was a perpetual super-spreader event, making his unjust imprisonment since September of last year an effective death sentence. Abtin was denied medical treatment, his comorbidities were ignored and at times he was shackled to his bed.”

Nossel continued: “Abtin, jailed alongside his colleagues and co-defendants Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, was a true champion of free expression and a steadfast leader in the Iranian literary and human rights communities. When this brave role put a target on his back, he did not flinch or hide. We will remember Abtin as a gifted poet and filmmaker, but also as a courageous thinker and an honorable advocate. Our thoughts are with Abtin’s family, friends, and colleagues in the Iranian Writers’ Association. We urgently call on officials at Evin prison to release Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi immediately, along with others unjustly detained in Iran and who are battling COVID infections or other severe health concerns, before it is too late.”

View Abtin’s remarks upon receiving the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award: