Baktash Abtin.KL./

DUBAI, Jan 8 (Reuters) – Dissident Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin has died of COVID-19 in a hospital in the capital Tehran after being released on a furlough from prison where he was infected twice, Iranian news agencies said on Saturday.

“The poet and documentary filmmaker…, who had contracted COVID earlier also while serving his sentence, was transferred to a hospital in Tehran (but) the treatment did not succeed and he died today,” the semi-official ISNA news agency said.

Rights group PEN America said on Twitter: “COVID is a natural killer, but Abtin’s death was aided and abetted by the Iranian government every step of the way.”

Abtin was also hospitalised last year, when a picture showing him apparently shackled to a bed caused an uproar on social media, prompting the head of Iran‘s prisons, Mohammad Mehdi Hajmohammadi, to tweet that those responsible had been “dealt with.”

Abtin, 48, who was serving a six-year sentence for “anti-government propaganda,” died shortly after PEN America and 18 other rights groups voiced concern over his treatment in a letter to Iran‘s Supreme letter Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Unfortunately, mistreatment of prisoners and denial of medical care is a systemic problem in Iranian prisons,” said the letter, posted on the website of Human Rights Watch.

Iran denies any mistreatment and its prisons directorate said Abtin was granted furlough 35 days ago to be moved to a private hospital by his relatives, state media reported.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom Editing by Mark Potter)

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