Iranian filmmaker dies from COVID-19 despite prison furlough

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An award-winning Iranian filmmaker and poet who had been jailed on state security charges but was released on furlough after contracting COVID-19 died Saturday of the disease, Iranian media reported.

Semiofficial ISNA news agency said Baktash Abtin, 47, was released nearly a month ago and died in a Tehran hospital with family by his side. Last year he won a literary award by PEN America, a free speech advocacy group.

“Neglected within Iran’s Evin prison, his death was entirely preventable.” PEN America in a statement. “COVID is a natural killer, but Abtin’s death was aided and abetted by the Iranian government every step of the way.”

Abtin had been serving a six-year prison sentence, which Tehran’s prison department said Saturday had been for “Propaganda against national security.” Iranian media in the past had described his infractions as “activity against the Islamic Republic.”

Doctors had placed Abtin in a medical coma when he was released on furlough. He contracted COVID-19 for the second time in December.

Abtin made documentary films and published several books of poetry. His real name was Mehdi Kazemi, but he was mainly known as Baktash Abtin, his pen name.

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