Imprisoned civil right activist Farhad Meysami, known for his advocacy for the rights of women and prisoners, has been on a hunger strike for 29 days.
“Those who know Dr. Meysami intimately are really worried about him,” a friend of his told IranWire, “because he is very stubborn and always finishes what he starts.”
Intelligence ministry agents arrested Meysami, 48, a medical doctor, on July 31 and took him to Evin Prison. After arresting him, the agents searched his home and confiscated a number of items, including badges declaring: “I am against forced hijab.”
In recent years Meysami has participated in gatherings and sit-ins in support of prisoners’ rights and in protest against the Islamic Republic’s strict rules on mandatory hijab.
Meysami reportedly gave the badges to his friends so they could express their opposition to mandatory hijab in a peaceful manner. The agents also confiscated several books on human rights, including copies of Small Civic Actions. “These are his crimes,” the agents told his mother when they discovered the books and the badges.
“On the second day of his detention he went on a hunger strike when he noticed that the interrogators were asking him questions that had nothing to do with his case,” a close friend of Meysami told IranWire. Meysami went on a hunger strike on August 1 after he was transferred to Evin Prison’s Ward 209. “His hunger strike is in protest against illegal handling of his own case and against all cases based on trumped up charges in recent years. He was kept in solitary confinement for 16 days at Ward 209. He was then transferred to Evin Prison’s Penitentiary 4 and continues his hunger strike.”
On August 29, Meysami called his friend from the prison. “He said that two low-level prison officials have separately talked to him, asking him to end his hunger strike,” said the friend. “Then they asked him what his demands were. ‘My demands are not merely personal,’ he told them. They told him that nobody has achieved results by going on hunger strike and tried to convince him to break it.”
On Tuesday, August 28, Meysami’s mother was allowed to see her son for the first time. “His mother said that he has lost 12 kilos, his face was completely pale and it was clear that he was weak. His blood pressure has dropped and several times he has been taken to prison’s clinic for injections.” According to the friend, before the meeting, the assistant prosecutor in charge of Evin Prison talked to Meysami’s mother to try to convince her to persuade her son to give up his hunger strike. “Mr. Meysami’s mother had gone to the prison to bring him fresh clothes. She met Mr. Rostami, the assistant prosecutor, and asked him about meeting her son. Rostami brought up the subject of the hunger strike and told her: ‘I’ll allow the visit and you should talk to him [so that he] ends his hunger strike.’”
But in the end, they did allow Meysami’s mother to meet hm face-to-face, and they were forced to talk through a glass partition.
“They don’t know Farhad Meysami,” said the friend. “He is as inflexible in his decisions as he is flexible in human relations. He would not concede to breaking his hunger strike.”
Over the last two days, Meysami has called a few of his friends, thanking them for their concern and asking them not to tell him to end his hunger strike.“He tells them: ‘I cannot break my hunger strike and saying no to my friends' requests puts more psychological pressure on him,’” the friend IranWire talked to said.
After talking with Meysami, Zhila Baniyaghoob, his friend and a journalist and former prisoner of conscience, quoted him as saying that instead of insisting that he should end his hunger strike his friends should insist “on due and just process of law and access to independent lawyers.”
No Choice in Choosing a Lawyer
At the time of publishing, Dr. Meysami had no access to a lawyer. According to a provision of Article 48 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure, “In cases of crimes against internal or external security...during the investigation phase, the parties to the dispute are to select their attorneys from a list approved by the head of the judiciary.” The existing approved list consists of 20 lawyers personally approved by the Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani. “In a situation like that of Mr. Meysami’s, usually nobody picks a lawyer,” said Reza Khandan, husband of the imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh — who is also on a hunger strike. “These are lawyers that they [the judiciary] themselves have picked and because of this, no accurate information about the case is available.”
The only thing that is known for certain is that Meysami faces charges of “collusion and conspiracy to threaten national security,” “disseminating propaganda against the regime,” and “insulting the hijab, an essential sacrament of Islam,” as reported by Iran’s Human Rights Activists news agency (HRANA). This is a familiar list of charges the Islamic Republic’s judiciary and security establishments bring against most human rights activists and journalists who displease them.
“Do you think wearing a badge that says ‘I am against forced hijab’ is a crime?” Amnesty International tweeted. “Iranian authorities do. They’ve arrested human rights defender Farhad Meysami and charged him with national security offences for supporting Iranian women’s campaign against this degrading practice.”
Besides being a doctor, Farhad Meysami has also published books for high school graduates preparing to participate in the nationwide university entrance exams. For years he also taught biology to exam applicants and had a good reputation for his teaching. Many applicants and former students remember the textbooks they used featuring introductions and epilogues written by Meysami. His writing in these books was general and not specifically related to the subject of the books, but it was so enjoyable to read and so engaging that some of the students said they remember these introductions and epilogues better than the subject.
In 2014, however, Meysami closed down his publishing house. “The business was doing very well financially and was on top of its game,” a friend of his had told IranWire previously. “But around 2014 the doctor suddenly decided to close shop. He argued that his business was all about the university entrance exams and this did not satisfy him. He wanted to have a bigger cultural role. He closed the business, paid everybody fully and sold the firm’s properties. With what he had left he opened an office on Revolution Street to engage in cultural activities that he liked. He invited different people to small meetings to talk about philosophy, science, theater, Iranian history, the Iranian Constitutional Revolution [1905-1911] and non-violent civil action.”
He became a supporter of “Revolution Women” — the women who in the early months of 2018 took off their headscarves in public places to protest against forced hijab — as a form of peaceful civil action and thus ended up in prison. But even in prison, Farhad Meysami is not thinking only about himself. “He insists that his problem is not personal,” Reza Khandan said. “He has told this to prison officials, but they do not get it. He says that he is protesting against unjust prosecutions in recent years.”
If nothing else, the prosecution of Farhad Meysami himself shows that the Islamic Republic authorities are adamant to continue harassing protesters against the “sacred” forced hijab. He is not the first — and most likely not the last — person paying for peaceful civil protests in Iran.
More on the fight against the forced wearing of the hijab in Iran:
Human Rights Lawyer Charged With Assisting Spies, August 16, 2018
The Wind in Her Hair, May 31, 2018
Guards Arrest “Revolution Woman” Maryam Shariatmadari, April 27, 2018
The Regime’s Tactics Against Iran’s “Revolution Women”, February 2018
People Want the Choice on Hijab — But the Regime Won't Listen, February, 2018
The Man Who Joined Revolution Women, February, 2018
More Women Protest by Removing their Hijabs, January, 2018
The Woman Who Stood Up Against Forced Hijab, January, 2018
Hijab Forced on Maryam Mirzakhani After Death, July 17, 2017
Hijab Patrols: Coming to a Hospital Near you, August 30, 2016