International solidarity grows for jailed Iranian dissident

Farhad Meysami enters the fifth month of a hunger strike and is being fed intravenous fluids and restrained in a bed.
Wednesday 12/12/2018
Iranian human rights activist Farhad Meysami (Facebook)
Iranian human rights activist Farhad Meysami (Facebook)

WASHINGTON – An Iranian dissident jailed in Tehran has received growing international support as he enters the fifth month of a hunger strike following his arrest for supporting women’s protests against the compulsory hijab.

Farhad Meysami, a medical doctor, was called a “modern-day Mahatma Gandhi” in a recent Washington Post opinion piece written by four leading scholars who urged the Iranian regime to release him.

The US State Department condemned Meysami’s “arbitrary detention” as a “brazen violation of human rights” in a statement December 7 that called for his immediate release. “He has no access to legal counsel and is charged with spurious national security offences. His life is now in imminent danger,” the release read.

The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at Meysami’s declining health and his detention in the medical wing of Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where political prisoners are held. The human rights group said on November 28 that Meysami is being held in isolation, fed intravenous fluids and restrained in a bed on charges that are a “clear violation of international human rights law.”

Meysami, 48, began a hunger strike August 1, the day after he was arrested for supporting a campaign against Iranian laws that force women and girls to wear hijabs, according to Amnesty International. Authorities arrested Meysami for having campaign buttons in his house that oppose the mandatory veil for women and for praising the women’s nonviolent protests, according to the Washington Post opinion column.

Iran charged Meysami with “spreading propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security,” according to Amnesty International. He also is charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities” because he allegedly “insulted” the hijab.

The Washington Post writers called Meysami “one of Iran’s most important dissidents” for his defense of human rights in Iran and advocacy of equality for Iranian women.” The column notes that Meysami gave up being a doctor to teach high school biology before becoming a full-time rights activist and an “ascetic in his aversion to worldly profits.” The Post writers include Abbas Milani, a founder of the Iran Democracy Project and professor at Stanford University, and Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia.

Meysami’s arrest and hunger strike have come as women across Iran have publicly campaigned against being forced to wear a hijab by taking their headscarves off in public. Protesters have been beaten by authorities and detained for showing strands of hair under their headscarves or for wearing heavy make-up or tight clothing.

The UN human-rights group said it was disturbed by the lack of due process given to Meysami and to other Iranian activists who are being detained such as Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer for the protesters who was convicted of security-related charges related to her work representing the protesters, and Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, who was arrested for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “promoting the practice of appearing in public without a veil.”

Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, called Meysami “a prisoner of conscience” and said “it is utterly outrageous that he is being detained at all. Instead of holding him in isolation in a medical clinic as punishment and to coerce him to end his hunger strike, the authorities should stop playing sinister games with his health and release him immediately and unconditionally.”