Iran: Critically ill prisoner of conscience coerced to end hunger strike

 The Iranian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Farhad Meysami, a human rights defender campaigning for women’s rights, who is being held in the medical clinic at Evin prison in Tehran against his will to pressure him into ending his hunger strike, said Amnesty International. 

Farhad Meysami, a medical doctor, was detained in July for supporting a campaign against Iran’s laws imposing forced hijab (veiling) on women and girls. He has been on hunger strike since 1 August and his health has deteriorated drastically. On 26 September, he was forcibly transferred from section 4 of Evin prison to the medical clinic, where he is being held in isolation, and has been administered intravenous fluids against his will. Sources told Amnesty International he is being held there until he agrees to end his hunger strike.

“Farhad Meysami’s only ‘crime’ is speaking out against Iran’s degrading and discriminatory practice of forced hijab and defending women's rights to choose their own clothing. He is a prisoner of conscience and it is utterly outrageous that he is being detained at all,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

“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.” 

Farhad Meysami’s only ‘crime’ is speaking out against Iran’s degrading and discriminatory practice of forced hijab and defending women's rights to choose their own clothing
Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Research and Advocacy Director for MENA

Since Farhad Meysami began his hunger strike, he has lost approximately 18kg in weight and is reported to be very frail. By pressuring him to end his hunger strike, the Iranian authorities are violating his right to freedom of expression. All prisoners have a right to adequate medical care that complies with medical ethics, including the right to give their informed consent for any treatment.

Farhad Meysami began his hunger strike in protest at his unlawful detention.  He was arrested at his home in Tehran on 31 July. Security forces found badges that read “I am against forced hijab” in his possession. He was charged with “spreading propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”. He was also charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities” because, according to the authorities, he “insulted” the hijab. 

As part of his ongoing hunger strike he is now also calling for the unconditional release of human rights defenders Nasrin Sotoudeh and Reza Khandan, who were arrested in June 2018 and September 2018, respectively, for their human rights work. Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer, was detained in connection with her work defending women who have been prosecuted for peacefully protesting against forced hijab. Reza Khandan is detained for his support of the campaign against forced hijab and for peacefully campaigning on behalf of his wife Nasrin Sotoudeh after her arrest. 

“Farhad Meysami is in an extremely vulnerable state and is being cruelly exploited by prison authorities. If the Iranian authorities are truly concerned for his health, they would put an end to his ordeal by releasing him and dropping the baseless charges against him,” said Philip Luther. 

If the Iranian authorities are truly concerned for his health, they would put an end to his ordeal by releasing him and dropping the baseless charges against him
Philip Luther

Throughout this year, women across Iran have courageously campaigned against forced hijab by taking off their headscarves in public. Their campaign has been met with violence by the authorities and dozens of women have been beaten, arrested, detained and prosecuted for their peaceful protests. Men, too, have joined in this peaceful protest against forced hijab.

“The arbitrary arrests, detentions, and prosecutions of women and men peacefully campaigning against the degrading and discriminatory practice of forced hijab is a flagrant assault on the right to freedom of expression and must end. Rather than jailing those standing up against this abusive practice, the Iranian authorities must repeal the very laws imposing it,” said Philip Luther. 

Police and paramilitary forces routinely harass and detain women for showing strands of hair under their headscarves or for wearing heavy make-up or tight clothing. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Iranian authorities to end the persecution of women who speak out against forced hijab, and to abolish this abusive practice.

This practice has violated women’s rights in Iran for decades, including their rights to non-discrimination, freedom of belief and religion, freedom of expression, and protection from arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.