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Friends Fear for Activist 50 Days after he Started Hunger Strike

September 18, 2018
Shima Shahrabi
8 min read
Dr Farhad Meysami has called for Iran's judiciary to observe due process and allow prisoners to have access to independent lawyers
Dr Farhad Meysami has called for Iran's judiciary to observe due process and allow prisoners to have access to independent lawyers
Meysami with fellow activists, the lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and Reza Khandan
Meysami with fellow activists, the lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and Reza Khandan

Imprisoned civil right activist Farhad Meysami is calling for "justice for all" as he nears his 50th day on hunger strike — insisting that Iranian judicial authorities observe “due and just process of law” and allow prisoners access to independent lawyers. Until now, the medical doctor and advocate of the rights of women and prisoners has agreed to drink liquids, and over the last week he has been fed by intravenous serum. But on September 17, he informed the examining magistrate dealing with his case that starting on September 23 he would refuse any sort of sustenance, including the serum.

Meysami calls his mother every day to console her. “Today after receiving the serum he called his mother, but he was not doing well and so his mother is not feeling good either,” a relative who picked up the phone told IranWire.

Intelligence ministry agents arrested Meysami, 48, 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 that declared: “I am against forced hijab.” The agents also confiscated several books on human rights, including copies of “Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World” by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson. “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 in late August. 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.”

Since then, Meysami’s mother has only been able to see her son once, on August 28. According to Reza Khandan, the husband of the imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and a close friend of Meysami, “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 the prison clinic for injections.” After the last visit with his mother, Meysami announced that he would refuse to go to the visiting hall in the prison to spare her from anguish. On September 4, authorities also arrested Khandan.

“Don’t ask me to break my strike”

After the news of his hunger strike was published, Meysami called his friends, thanking them for their concern and asking them not to urge him to end his hunger strike. His friend said: “He tells them: ‘I cannot break my hunger strike and saying no to my friends' requests puts more psychological pressure on me.’”

A friend of Meysami’s, journalist Zhila Baniyaghoob, who has also spent time in prison, said he had insisted his friends also call for “due and just process of law and access to independent lawyers.”

Prison officials have met Meysami a few times to ask him about his demands and try to persuade him to end his hunger strike but, according to his friends, authorities have been left baffled and at a loss as to how to deal with him. “He only talks about the justice system and does not asks anything for himself,” a friend told IranWire. “To be honest, talking with Dr. Meysami is not easy, and I am sure that prison officials do not have the necessary intellect to understand what he is saying.”

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, as well as being liked by his students. Many applicants and former students remember the textbooks they used had featured introductions and epilogues written by Meysami.

Dry Hunger Strike

On the 37th day of his hunger strike, Meysami wrote a letter from prison that reminded his former students of the engaging style of writing he had used in the textbook introductions. In the letter, he announced that he was starting the second phase of his protest, meaning a dry hunger strike, and that he would refuse to drink liquids. In the letter, he said that ending one person’s hunger strike is a “much smaller” issue than “the demand for a just due process of law.”

Meysami called on political and civil activists to work “with emphasis on meaningful defense” and to demand the repeal of the rule that severely restricts prisoners’ access to lawyers. During interrogations in cases linked to security matters, defendants are forced to choose from a list of 20 lawyers handpicked by the head of the judiciary. Meysami said the accused must be able to choose “an independent lawyer” to represent them throughout hearings, and that these lawyers must be given time and access to review the cases and to prepare a well-founded defense to present in an open court and in the presence of an impartial press.

Like many defendants in security-related cases, Farhad Meysami does not have 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.”

Many lawyers and civil activists have objected to this rule, among them Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is currently also in prison and on a hunger strike. According to Reza Khandan, who talked to IranWire before his own arrest, in the early days after Sotoudeh started her hunger strike, the chief warden visited her and asked what would make her end her strike. The unconditional release of Farhad Meysami was her first demand. One of demands Meysami himself made at the start of his dry hunger strike was the unconditional release of Reza Khandan and an end to the harassment of Khandan’s sister and civil rights activists Zhila Makvandi and Davoud Farhadpour.

Intelligence Ministry agents arrested Khandan at his home on the morning of September 4. Prior to this, he had reported on his Facebook page that he had been threatened with arrest: “Today a person called me on my mobile and said that he was from the Intelligence Ministry. He said that I must go there the following day. I reminded him that nobody and no agency, except a judicial authority, can prosecute individuals — and then only in writing and by specifying the reasons and the charges. Unfortunately, in answer to my protest, he said: ‘Then you’ll be arrested.’”

“He has been charged with collusion against national security, propaganda against the regime and encouraging women to remove their hijab” a friend of Khandan told IranWire. The friend’s guess is that the anti-hijab charge has been levelled against Khandan because authorities had also found badges declaring “I am against forced hijab” at his home. On August 18, Intelligence Ministry agents raided the homes of Reza Khandan and a number of other civil rights activists, including Zhila Makvandi, Davoud Farhadpour and Khandan’s sister in search of the badges. Meysami had distributed the badges to his friends.

The agents did not find any badges at the home of Khandan’s sister but repeatedly summoned and interrogated her. Earlier, Khandan had said that his sister’s family were not active politically and that her house had been searched to put psychological pressure on him and on Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Justice for All

Meysami’s letter and his demand of “justice for all in the justice system” has attracted a lot of attention on social media, with the hashtag “#WeWantHouseOfJustice” (#عدالتخانه_میخواهیم in Persian) trending after civil rights activists and Meysami’s friends spread the news about his case. And it is no coincidence that the popular demands for a “house of justice” is how the 1905 Iranian Constitutional Revolution started.

Meysami’s friends share a common concern about their friend’s health, and the danger it poses to his life. He is stubborn, they say, and follows everything that he does to the very end. “He has announced that he will not accept serum come September 23,” a friend of his told IranWire. “When the doctor [Meysami] says that he is not going to take serum he will stay on his word. We are afraid that the price for his legitimate demands will be his life.”

 

More on the fight against the forced wearing of the hijab in Iran:

Husband of Prominent Lawyer Arrested, September 5, 2018

The Saga of an Iranian Peaceful Activist, August 30, 2018

Human Rights Lawyer Charged With Assisting Spies, August 16, 2018

The Wind in Her Hair, May 31, 2018

Decoding Iranian Politics: The Struggle Over Compulsory Hijab, May 1, 2018

Guards Arrest “Revolution Woman” Maryam Shariatmadari, April 27, 2018

Exclusive: Interview with Revolution Woman Narges Hosseini, March 2018

Khamenei Dismisses Hijab Protesters as “Insignificant and Small", March 2018

Anti-Hijab Protester Sentenced to Two Years in Prison, March 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

Iran’s Prosecutor Dismisses Hijab Protesters as Childish and Ignorant, January, 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

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