Campaign

Update

January 24, 2022

Death of poet Baktash Abtin Ignites Hunger Strike by Fellow Prisoners, Mass Protests in Iran, Solidarity Actions Internationally

January 24, 2022

The cruel January 8 death of beloved poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin at the hands of Iran’s jailers, has sparked a wave of outrage and protest in Iran and internationally, including, courageously, by his fellow political prisoners. (See one of Baktash’s last videos, below)

Baktash made this last video just before entering Evin Prison to serve a 6-year sentence for being a board member of the banned Iranian Writers Association (IWA).

“When you read this message, probably my dear friends Mr. Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Kehvan Bazhan and I are in jail.”… “Have these pressures caused any disruptions in our strong will? No! …Even if they throw 30 active members of IWA into jail, I’m sure our passionate young generation and senior members will not allow the light of IWA to be extinguished … But I need to thank all of you for your kindness toward my friends and me and being with us. Farewell with hope for better and brighter days.”

After he fell ill with COVID, prison authorities at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison deliberately denied Abtin life-saving medical care.

Kave Milani of the Burn the Cage / Free the Birds movement in Europe tweeted, “His unjust imprisonment by the Iranian state was an effective death sentence. We will forever remember Abtin’s creativity and commitment to free expression.”

The cruel January 8 death of beloved poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin at the hands of Iran’s jailers, has sparked a wave of outrage and protest in Iran and internationally, including, courageously, by his fellow political prisoners. (See one of Baktash’s last videos, below)

Baktash made this last video just before entering Evin Prison to serve a 6-year sentence for being a board member of the banned Iranian Writers Association (IWA).

“When you read this message, probably my dear friends Mr. Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Kehvan Bazhan and I are in jail.”… “Have these pressures caused any disruptions in our strong will? No! …Even if they throw 30 active members of IWA into jail, I’m sure our passionate young generation and senior members will not allow the light of IWA to be extinguished … But I need to thank all of you for your kindness toward my friends and me and being with us. Farewell with hope for better and brighter days.”

After he fell ill with COVID, prison authorities at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison deliberately denied Abtin life-saving medical care.

Kave Milani of the Burn the Cage / Free the Birds movement in Europe tweeted, “His unjust imprisonment by the Iranian state was an effective death sentence. We will forever remember Abtin’s creativity and commitment to free expression.”

The night Abtin died, enraged shouts from political prisoners’ Ward 8 could be heard, calling for justice for Baktash and death to the “Supreme Leader” Khamenei. A candlelight vigil and protest outside the hospital where he died was forcibly dispersed by authorities. At least six political prisoners immediately staged a sit-in to protest “the role of prison officials in Baktash Abtin’s death,” and to demand an investigation of and apology from the officials responsible.

On January 12, after sitting in for 5 days, six or seven political prisoners in Ward 8 went on a dry hunger strike (no liquid or food intake). According to a January 19 audio message from one of the strikers to Iran Wire, the regime retaliated by removing three hunger strikers for “medical care,” and then beat them and transferred them to Greater Tehran Prison. To avoid this “medical” pretext, the hunger strikers have now switched to a “wet” hunger strike (liquid intake, no food).

as of Jan 24 2022, from @SoheylArabiii

On January 20, these courageous prisoners issued a statement to the world announcing that “a wave of support and an outcry for justice has begun for [Abtin] and other prisoners killed in Iran,” and that while the regime was transferring prisoners and abducting them to “unknown places in order to break this solidarity,” that “solidarity with our hunger strike continues in Iran and abroad.” (Full statement).

Their courageous action has inspired other prisoners to join them (according to reports, there are 20+ who are taking part in a “chain” hunger strike - #ChainHungerStrike, #HungerStrike4Life). British-Iranian dual national, 67-year-old Anoosheh Ashoori, illegitimately imprisoned for four and a half years, has joined, as his daughter Elika announced.  (Elika and her mother and brother have all signed the IEC’s Emergency Appeal.)

Habib and Vahid Afkari, the imprisoned brothers of wrestling champion Navid Afkari, have also reportedly joined the strike from Shiraz Central Prison. The brothers have been held in solitary confinement for over 500 days, since the regime executed their brother in September 2020 for his support of the November 2018 rebellion in Shiraz.

Cries of Outrage at Baktash Abtin’s Death Ring Outside Evin’s Walls, Beyond Iran’s Borders

The regime’s callous killing of Abtin came on top of the death of political prisoner Adel Kianpour days before in tumultuous Khuzestan province, the precarious health of imprisoned journalist Keyvan Samimi, and many instances of political prisoners on bail or furlough being called in for trial or returned to prison in Iran’s COVID super-spreader dungeons. Human rights defender Narges Mohammedi was sentenced to another eight years in prison and transferred to notorious Qarchak Prison. Mass abuse of Kurdish prisoners has been reported.

All this –- and the heroic example of the hunger striking prisoners -- has sparked outrage and inspired protests beyond Evin’s walls and Iran’s borders.

Abtin’s funeral drew hundreds of mourners – even though the IRI had pressured his family to suddenly hold his funeral ahead of schedule to head off an outpouring. Many of them shouted “Hail to Abtin, Death to tyrants”, “Abtin is alive, his path is lasting” and “This freedom-minded poet is nightmare for injustice.”

In Vienna, Austria, in front of the venue for renewed nuclear talks between Iran and the U.S. and other world powers, a sit-in and hunger strike has attracted a variety of forces, among them journalist Jamshid Barzegar who joined to protest Baktash’s death and demand freedom for all foreign and dual-national political prisoners.

In San Francisco, California, 15-20 people gathered in front of the U.S. Federal Building on January 22 to express their solidarity with Iran’s hunger strikers and to demand “the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners held by the Islamic Regime.”

The Human Rights Working Group of the First Unitarian Universalists of San Francisco read a statement condemning both the Islamic Republic’s treatment of political prisoners and the US history of crimes against Iran (full statement here).

Revcom.us readers in Houston took the Emergency Appeal out to an Iranian film festival (Read their report).

Step Up the Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now!

The Center for Human Rights in Iran sums up that the regime is intensifying its campaign to “squash growing dissent in Iran by imprisoning activists and human rights attorneys after grossly unfair trials, shooting to kill protesters in the street, imposing death sentences on dissidents and protesters, and causing the death of political prisoners by egregiously neglecting their medical needs.”

This escalating brutality by the regime, the ongoing heroism of these prisoners and the Iranian people, and now with these hunger strikes more broadly underscore the urgent need to greatly step up the struggle to FREE IRAN’S POLITICAL PRISONERS NOW!

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