Farhad Meysami, 48, a medical doctor and a civil rights activist, was arrested by Intelligence Ministry on July 31 and taken 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.” 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.
He has been on hunger strike for over two months. His mother and friends fear for his life. In a letter seen by IranWire, Meysami set out his motives and his demands in detail. Below is the full text of the letter.
To start, let me tell you that I started my hunger strike at Ward 209 of Evin Prison 24 hours after I was arrested by the Intelligence Ministry. For 21 days I took only water and salt and after I was transferred to Ward 4, I also drank tea with sugar. This hunger strike had two initial and conscious functions and one unintended function that was later added thanks to civil rights activists.
The first function was that it was my only tool to prevent, as far as possible, the agents from making trouble for third persons. These third persons were often ordinary and non-political individuals who were not even involved in civil activities [but] since they had dealings with me in very ordinary affairs, they were in danger of being targeted with charges because, for example, they received a book about human rights as a gift from me.
The second function was that it could serve as a vehicle for me to stand up for some of my values: standing up to unjust judicial procedures where “the right to directly choose a lawyer” and the “possibility of meaningful defense” have been stripped from the people. For me, this was a clear case of doing my personal duty to resist injustice.
After I arrived at the community ward and it was possible to communicate with the outside world about my hunger strike, the third function — i.e., bringing to public attention, again, the question of the list of 20 government lawyers — emerged, [although] it was not one of my goals at the beginning because I never imagined that it had the potential to attract public attention to the extent that it later proved to have.
[Editor’s note: 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.]
Along the way, although security agents understood my sensitivity toward involving third persons and continued their work with relative gentleness, in the end it led to the arrest of Reza Khandan [husband of the imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh].
My dear Reza is himself an independent civil rights activist and I have deep respect for both his actions and his choices. But, as it happened in this case, they used my case to create an excuse for summoning him. Nima and Mehraveh [their children], who had not only been separated from their mother for three years [when Sotoudeh was serving a prison sentence from 2011 to 2013] and for the past few months have been deprived again of her presence, were now deprived of the warmth of their father’s presence as well — especially in a situation where their mother had gone on a hunger strike in protest against my arrest.
Mehraveh is now older and she is a strong and firm youngster. But Nima is at an age that he would be hurt twice as much, especially considering the special bond that he has formed with his father. I believe that I am personally responsible for this latest event because the excuse for the arrest [of Reza Khandan] was the result of my technological laziness and negligence in setting up my Telegram [channel] because, at the time, it was set to default, not the two-step authentication.
This was how the security establishment succeeded in discovering and thwarting the great threat posed to national security by a few copies of books about human rights and a number of badges in the corner of a library. And during the time that their honorable [agents] had concentrated on investigating this case — or, as they themselves call it, on the “operation” — the terrorists were planning to shed the blood of tens of our fellow Iranians in Ahvaz at their own leisure and [accompanied by] a total failure of intelligence.
I could not possibly accept that my negligence would cause other people to be hurt, especially when it worsens the damage done to a family that has been hurt enough by numerous injustices that they have suffered. Therefore, after Reza Khandan’s arrest, I informed the prison officials of the second phase of my hunger strike, which meant refusing to take water, salt, tea and sugar. I also informed them that for a while I would accept [intravenous] serum and would take pills for the treatment of my chronic disease with the minimum amount of water. My demand was his unconditional release and dropping the charges against him.
[Editor’s note: According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), Meysami suffers from colitis, a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. It can be dangerous if left untreated.]
Then, in the process of doing this, an unexpected thing happened. The response in the outside world to this small act of resistance was much more extensive than [I thought] could have been the result of my minor act. I was very surprised by the high volume of public support and also the empathic and well-meaning solidarity of friends and worthy people, each one of whom is an irreplaceable asset for this land. I have no idea by what coincidence at this juncture Iran’s civil society came to recognize this event as a vindication for its call for justice.
Within this big volume of support, I also received letters, statements, serious misgivings and requests by worthy people who wanted me to end my hunger strike. Although I do not deserve so much kindness, I could not be ungrateful to them, nor could I disregard all these worthy and venerable misgivings and demands.
I also learned that bills have been drafted by members of the parliament and also by the judiciary to revise the provision in Article 48 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that limits the choice of lawyers in political and media and similar cases to government lawyers. [Here the handwriting of Dr. Meysami is not quite legible.] Of course, this had come up before as well but the valuable actions by civil, political and legal activists in bringing it up again at this time has drawn more attention and has speeded up the process.
I was facing a three-part issue:
- Part of my hunger strike was about the right of my own resistance to the unjust judicial process.
- The other part that emerged later, thanks to civil activists, was about bringing the issue to the public attention and speeding up the project to revise the law.
- And the third part was to reclaim the rights of third persons whose troubles I was responsible for.
Taking all this together — and considering the worries and anxiety that has been caused for people whom I love, friends, activists and worthy people, and in respect to their collective wisdom and sound judgment — I now exclude the first reason for the hunger strike that related to my own resistance against injustice done to me personally. I truly believe that it is insignificant when seen in the context of such an outpouring of [expressions] of anxiety and worries. I will try to stand up to this unjust treatment in other possible ways, even if they are less effective or ineffective.
Out of the respect for the huge outpouring of good wishes that I have received in the path that I have taken, I would gladly accept any prison sentence even in exile or under any other difficult conditions and, every hour of every day, I would try to change it to an endeavor for my personal growth in the path of our social goals. So the second reason for my hunger strike— to bring the issue to public attention — is also out because it did motivate the “civil-political society” and put it on track.
But now about the third part. I hope the readers of these words can put themselves in my place. A mother [Nasrin Sotoudeh], a great Iranian lady, is on her 33rd day of hunger strike in prison and her demand is my release. The father of the family has also been thrown in jail because of my negligence. In this situation, how can I retreat and just look on? How I can let go of the bond that ties us together in our collective resistance? The rights of others is not something that I can disavow because of [other people’s] demands, even though I have deep respect for them, especially since many believers among them do not consider shunning other people’s rights as something that they would do.
For this reason, my only strict demand for ending my hunger strike is dropping the charges against Mr. Reza Khandan and restoring the warmth of his presence to his home and to his children. One can hope this would also convince the dear Nasrin Sotoudeh to end her hunger strike because she would find that I have grown in this process. I emphasize that I would not abide by the efforts of judicial-security forces who want to bypass the question by setting bail for him. Such a course of action would only temporarily delay the matter for a short while. In a few weeks they would summon him again and the whole thing would begin once again.
Therefore, unless the charges against him are dropped I will continue my [dry] hunger strike to the end in complete serenity as a duty that my conscience dictates in no uncertain terms.
More on the persecution of women’s rights advocates:
Women’s Rights Activists behind Bars, October 1, 2018
Friends Fear for Activist 50 Days after he Started Hunger Strike, September 18, 2018
The Saga of an Iranian Peaceful Activist, August 30, 2018
Human Rights Lawyer Charged With Assisting Spies, August 16, 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