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Hunger Strike Draws Attention to Political Prisoners

23 Jul 2009 23:346 Comments
hunger strike

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

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6 Comments

I was there with my son and the rest of my family joined later on. I wanted to give my support and more people need to show up and also they need donations. Please show your support and solidarity.

Minoo / July 23, 2009 11:53 PM

Cheers to the Iranian-American community - your support resonates deeply with us in Iran and makes the regime impotent with rage!

Mani / July 24, 2009 12:09 PM

My dear friends in Iran,


My heart is with you in your struggles. I hope and pray that these struggles are not in vain.


There will be a separation of religion and politics in Iran. I am sure of it. The good fate of IRAN lies in its ability to structure and isolate their politics from the emotional and passionate religious "LAW"


Many injustices are done in the name of religion. I believe the "awakening" of iran is evidence of the basic human right of the people that know they CANNOT live or breath with the clerical hand around their throats.


I pray that the people will not give up their "will" and fight for their rights.

Regards,

joseph usa / July 24, 2009 12:51 PM

Mr. Ganji and the celeberities that have attended the hunger strike in New York, have condemned Iran's election results, the government's crack down on protesters and also the government's human rights violations. Unfortunately, they all stopped short of voicing the Iranian's demands inside Iran, which is a regime change. Iranians are way passed the election results at this point and want freedom and democracy.


Mr. Ganji, at New York, refused to allow demonstrators carry the old flag (shir-o-Khorshid). Some believe that Mr. Ganji is an agent for the Islamic Republic. Others believe he's just ignorant and associates the shir-o-khorshid flag to the Pahlavi dynasty.


I think prominent Iranians in exile, if they're not on the payroll of the Islamic Republic, should grow some "kajonas" and say what the Iranians inside Iran are affraid to say. "Death to Islamic Republic".

Armen / July 26, 2009 3:36 AM

Thank you for your comment, Armen. Having attended and reported on several events organized by the Where is Our Vote? New York chapter, I have not come away with the impression that the organizers are working for the current government in Iran nor that they endorse the government's tactics and policies.


The language I have read in the group's organizing materials asks supporters to leave all flags at home, not just the shiro khorshid. It is true that some in the crowds attending the event are supporters of Mr. Mousavi and that those supporters are, by definition, calling for reform WITHIN the framework of the existing constitution as opposed to calling for a revolution.


Based on reports coming out of Iran, however, it is not clear to me that this is entirely inconsistent with the motivations of those protesting in the streets of Tehran and other cities.


Professor Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University has said repeatedly, "This is Not Another Revolution. This is a Civil Rights Movement."

Leila Darabi / July 27, 2009 10:48 AM

Hi Lella, and thanks for responding to my post.


In regard to your response, i had a couple of questions which you may be able to help me with. First, what is the reason for some groups banning the shiro khorshid flag from the demonstrations? This flag has been the national flag, correct me if i'm wrong, for about 400 years and has nothing to do with the Pahlavi dynasty. Those who bear this flag, oppose the Islamic regime. Afterall, demonstrators inside Iran were chanting "Mousavi Mousavi get my flag back".


Second,I understand that some demonstrators, who support Mr. Mousavi, want reforms within the constitution. My question is, if the current constitution is based on Islamic Law and The Koran, how much reform could there possibly be? The president has only 20% power with 80% going to the supreme leader, or as i call him, shah with a turban!


I agree that the people inside Iran are calling for reforms, but the freedoms and the reforms they're asking for is an indirect way of calling for an end to the current regime, since the regime can not survive by giving in to these demands. After all the phrase Islamic Republic is an oxymoron to begin with.

Armen / July 28, 2009 5:58 AM