Imprisoned Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi started a hunger strike on Monday in protest over what she said was the jail’s refusal to provide her with medical treatment, according to a family statement provided to CNN.
The 51-year-old rights activist was awarded the Nobel on October 6 for “her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.” That battle has come at a huge personal cost – she’s been sentenced to more than 30 years in jail, and has been banned from seeing her husband and children.
According to her family, an Iranian prosecutor refused to grant Mohammadi’s request to be transferred from Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where she is being held, to a heart and lung hospital for “urgent medical care.”
US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that she was denied access to hospital treatment last week after refusing to wear the mandatory hijab.
“It’s been a week now that they are refusing to give her the medical aid she needs,” the activist’s family said in the statement, adding that they were “concerned” about her “physical condition and health.”
Mohammadi was using the hunger strike to demonstrate against Iran’s “policy of delaying and neglecting medical care for sick inmates” and its mandatory hijab policy for Iranian women, the family added.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said on Monday that it was “deeply concerned” for Mohammadi’s health.
“The requirement that female inmates must wear a hijab in order to be hospitalized is inhumane and morally unacceptable,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the committee, said in a statement.
In a letter written from Tehran’s Evin Prison earlier this year and shared with CNN, Mohammadi railed against the government’s policy of compulsory hijab, calling it a “deceitful scheme against women” and a tool “to strengthen the power of the religious government.”
When it came to power four decades ago, the Islamic Republic used the compulsory hijab to “showcase the image of domination, subjugation and control over women” as a means to control society, Mohammadi wrote.
In an audio recording shared with CNN from inside Evin Prison, Mohammadi is heard leading chants of “Woman, Life, Freedom” – the slogan of the uprising sparked last year by the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian women died in the custody of the regime’s morality police, having been arrested for allegedly not complying with the country’s conservative dress code.
Another young woman, 16-year-old Armita Geravand, fell into a coma last month after she was allegedly assaulted by the country’s morality police for not wearing a headscarf on the Tehran metro. Geravand was announced dead on October 28 by Iranian state media, a month after Iran’s parliament passed draconian legislation imposing penalties of up to 10 years in prison for women who breach the country’s already strict hijab rules.
Mohammadi herself has spent most of the past two decades in prison and is currently serving a sentence of 10 years and 9 months, accused of actions against national security and propaganda against the state.
In August she was sentenced to an additional year in jail for her continued activism inside prison after she gave a media interview and a statement about sexual assaults in jail, which she says have “significantly increased” since the protests swept Iran last year, leading her to describe the abuse as now “systematic.”
In Mohammadi’s letter to CNN, she outlined how this assault happens “in detention centers, during interrogations, threats… inside detention vehicles, under the blows and kicks of officers” and called out what she says is the hypocrisy of a religious state using sexual violence against female detainees.
Mohammadi was already serving time for publishing a book last year about Iran’s brutal prison methods, titled “White Torture: Interviews with Iranian Women Prisoners,” as well as a documentary film telling the stories of prisoners held in solitary confinement – a punishment Mohammadi herself has endured.
For refusing to be silenced behind bars, Mohammadi has been banned from speaking directly with her husband and children for more than a year.
CNN spoke recently with Mohammadi’s husband and son, living in exile in France, who expressed their pride in her “endless energy for freedom and human rights” in Iran.
The family have promised to hold the Iranian regime “responsible for anything that happens to our beloved Narges.”
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