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Imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi begins hunger strike in Iran

Mohammadi has been targeted by the Iranian authorities for a decade for her activism and she is now reportedly suffering from heart and lung issues. However, her family alleges that prison authorities have refused to take her to a hospital for refusing to wear a hijab.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Tehran Published on: November 07, 2023 6:43 IST
Imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi
Image Source : AP Imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi

The 51-year-old social activist Narges Mohammadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2023, began a hunger strike in an Iranian prison on Monday to protest against not being able to avail medical care as well as against the country's strict hijab rules, according to a campaign advocating for her.

Mohammadi has been allegedly targeted by the Iranian government for her years of activism and her hunger strike is believed to increase the pressure over her incarceration. Additionally, she is among the prisoners who are reportedly not being allowed to avail medical care.

According to the Free Narges Mohammadi campaign, the imprisoned activist sent a message to her family from the Evin Prison that she started a hunger strike "several hours ago", weeks after she sought her transfer to a specialist hospital for heart and lung care.

Mohammadi's health issues

Mohammadi's family said that she is suffering from blockages in three veins and lung pressure, but prison officials refused to take her to the hospital for refusing to wear a hijab.

"Narges went on a hunger strike today... protesting two things: The Islamic Republic's policy of delaying and neglecting medical care for sick inmates, resulting in the loss of the health and lives of individuals.

The policy of death' or mandatory hijab' for Iranian women,” read a statement from her family.

The family further said that the activist is only consuming water, sugar and salt" and refusing medicine, adding that the Islamic Republic would be responsible if anything sinister happened to Mohammadi.

Meanwhile, another imprisoned activist and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is reportedly in dire need of medical care which she has not received yet. She was arrested for attending the funeral of 17-year-old Armita Geravand, who died after an alleged assault by morality police in Tehran's Metro for wearing a hijab improperly.

What did the Nobel Committee say?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awarded Mohammadi with the peace prize, said that it was "deeply concerned" about her health. "Narges Mohammadi's initiation of a hunger strike demonstrates the seriousness of the situation. The Norwegian Nobel Committee urges the Iranian authorities to provide Narges Mohammadi, and other female inmates, with whatever medical assistance they may need," it said, adding that the condition of wearing hijab for medical care was "morally unacceptable".

Iranian officials and its state-controlled television network did not acknowledge Mohammadi's hunger strike, which is common with cases involving activists there. Iran's mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.

The Nobel Peace Prize 2023 was awarded to the imprisoned activist in October for fighting against the oppression of women in Iran and promoting human rights and freedom for all. Mohammadi was arrested in November last year after she attended a memorial for a victim of violent protests in 2019. 

Mohammadi became the second Iranian woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize after human rights activist Shirin Ebadi in 2003 and the 19th woman overall. She was the vice president of the banned Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran, founded by Ebadi.

Iran's hijab rules

While women in Iran hold jobs, academic positions and even government appointments, their lives are tightly controlled in part by laws like the mandatory hijab. The headscarf became a political symbol after the 'custodial death' of 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini in 2022.

Amini was arrested on the charges of wearing her hijab improperly. She was reportedly beaten up by officers in the head with a baton after which she called collapsed on the way to a detention centre. Her death provoked widespread protests across Iran, with many refusing to follow the strict dress code.

Since the protests began, at least 529 people have been killed in demonstrations, according to Human Rights activists in Iran. Over 19,700 others were detained by authorities amid a violent crackdown trying to suppress the dissent.

The Iranian regime faced massive pressure from across the world to outlaw the morality police. However, the Iranian authorities did not alter any laws and charged the West for disturbing the law and order situation in the country. The government passed a 'hijab bill' in September imposing much harsher penalties on women who breach hijab rules, including 10 years in prison.

In late October, Geravand died weeks after suffering a head injury in the Tehran Metro. Although her family said that she suffered a blood pressure issue, activists alleged that she was assaulted by female morality police officers.

(with inputs from AP)

ALSO READ | Iranian teen declared 'brain dead' after police assault for wearing hijab improperly: Report


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