Hunger Strike Draws Attention to Political Prisoners
23 Jul 2009 23:34
By LEILA DARABI in New York | 23 July 2009
A group of 30 prominent Iranians in exile -- including academics, artists, actors and advocates -- commenced a three-day hunger strike across the street from United Nations headquarters in New York City yesterday. Their objective: keep Iran in the news.
Specifically, the event seeks to draw attention to the repression of protestors and widespread arrests that have taken place in Iran over the past few weeks. Organized by political journalist and author Akbar Ganji with the help of high profile friends and the New York chapter of the activist coalition, Where Is My Vote?, the band of hunger strikers and their supporters set up temporary headquarters at 47th Street and 1st Avenue on Wednesday at 8 a.m. and will break their fast Friday evening at 8 p.m.
According to The Guardian's dead and detained list, more than 1000 Iranian opposition supporters, protesters and journalists have been arrested since June 12th. Organizers of the UN hunger strike estimate that roughly 600 political prisoners are currently being held in Iran for questioning and/or protesting president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's right to a second term of office.
To make this point visually, the organizers printed a 20-foot banner covered in names to serve as the backdrop to an impromptu stage to be used over the course of the three days -- green for those arrested in Iran since the disputed June 12th elections, red for those killed in attacks on protestors or in prison since. At the end of the first day of the strike, Iranian pop star Googoosh and actresses Isabella Rossalini joined the roster of speakers to stand in front of these names in the hopes of lending their celebrity to the event.
Shohreh Aghdashloo, star of the film The Stoning of Soraya M., a drama based on real-life human rights abuses in Iran, took the stage Wednesday for a passionate address to around 300 spectators, many Iranians and Iranian-Americans who had come after work to show their solidarity with the hunger strikers. Aghdashloo called for the international community to put pressure on the Iranian government to release political prisoners and stop crack downs on protestors.
"We are here to humbly bring to the attention of the United Nations, to point out that after 30 years of humble tolerance, the Iranian people, at last subjugated to a fraudulent election, determined that they would take their destiny into their own hands. But those who have were shot down and oppressed," she said. "War is not enough for us anymore, we need more action and we need it now before more women and children are mourning death."
Columbia University Professor Hamid Dabashi similarly appealed for international action short of military intervention. At the close of a speech given mainly in Farsi, Dabashi broke into English for a final, emphatic point: "Hands off Iran!" he cried. "Hands off Iran. The people are perfectly capable of a democratic movement. No sanctions, no invasion. This is an indoor movement." The crowd responded with whistles and wild cheers.
Other hunger strikers include the couple Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari, both artists and prominent members of the Iranian community in New York City who signed on to the event after receiving a call from their friend Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Neshat is on the board of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute and enlisted Redford to help promote the strike at the annual board retreat and via the Sundance Institute's listserve. The response came quickly.
"Shirin has been getting hundreds of emails a day," Azari said. "She's been doing so much, I'm really proud of her."
The hunger strike, Azari said, is a good way to keep international attention on Iran and allow Iranians overseas to connect with compatriots in Iran. More actions like this one are needed, he said, to build capacity of opposition protestors in Iran.
"The atmosphere for strikes is ripe, but they can't do it because the situation is so severe they can't," he said. "They are really living hand to mouth."
"One of the most important things for us to do," continued Azari, "is to get organizations, labor organizations and feminist institutions, non political organizations, aligned with organizations in Iran. That should have a major impact. Solidarity, pressure through governments is always biased, but for example if you connect the steal workers here with the steal workers of Iran, that kind of movement could have a real impact. We are doing that a bit as artists, as people on the left, but it's not really something being worked on."
The UN hunger strike is part of a series of events taking place in New York and around the country, which will culminate on July 25th in a "Global Day of Action for Human Rights in Iran" cosponsored by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups.
A full list of hunger strike participants and the event press release in English and Farsi are available at Akbar Ganji's website.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau