(New York, NY) — After contracting COVID-19 in prison for a second time, 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honoree Baktash Abtin is now in a medically-induced coma. In response to the alarming deterioration of his condition, PEN America’s CEO Suzanne Nossel issued the following statement:

“Baktash Abtin’s life is now hanging in the balance as he lies in an induced coma, suffering from a second bout of COVID-19, contracted yet again in Iran’s Evin prison. While the virus is ravaging Abtin, the real threat to his life remains the Iranian regime. The Iranian government has unjustly imprisoned him in a rank, overcrowded jail that was a known breeding ground for infection. They have repeatedly denied him access to proper medical treatment, ignoring his underlying conditions, delaying hospitalization, and even shackling him to a bed. The world is now watching as he fights to survive. We demand that Iranian authorities release Abtin without restriction and afford him the best available expert medical care — including access to international medical professionals if his family wishes — so that he does not die in custody, a victim less of COVID-19 than of cruel and systematic mistreatment at the hands of the Iranian state. And we continue to call on the Iranian regime to cease its abuses and immediately release those unjustly detained in the country, including Abtin and his colleagues and co-defendants Keyvan Bajan and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, all leaders in the Iranian Writers Association. The international community must not look away from the Iranian regime’s violations of human rights, but must demand the immediate release of all those who have done nothing more than exercise their right to speak and write freely. We join Abtin’s family and the Iranian Writers Association in fervent hope for his full and speedy recovery.”