Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested after defending women who took their hijabs off in public. Why is her hunger strike now being met with silence by the UK’s politicians and media?
The very concept of going without food for more than about six hours (okay, minutes) upsets me. A good pizza, a nice kebab, a delicious curry is always around the corner. A couple of times a year, maybe a salad.
So, it gives me no pleasure to report that today marks two weeks since the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh started her hunger strike. Imagine a hunger strike in Iran, where there is all that amazing food to eat. Why would she do that? Well, she’s been locked up – again. They first got the 54-year-old mother of two in 2011 for defending those who took part in the 2009 Green Movement demonstrations. She served three years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement.
Surge in arrests of human rights activists in Iran, say advocates
But once out, she didn’t stop. She was back to what she’s good at; representing the underdog and – at less than 5ft tall – standing up to the bullies, to an entire state to be exact! This time around she was handling the cases of Iranian women who dared to whip off their hijabs in public and wave it in the face of The Man. The Man in Iran is Ayatollah Khamenei, the geezer who controls everything, the Don. He is probably sat in a comfy seat stroking a cat now, pleased that Iran looks every inch the power broker between the warring interests in Syria, welcoming Turkey and Russia in for a chat (Tehran is a key backer of Assad).
Putin and Erdogan, of course, will not be taken to the ward where Iran keeps its political prisoners, but who knows with these guys, maybe they’ll ask to go in and compare torture recipes – the guide telling them: “This is our most prominent human rights lawyer [spits]. This one is some mother from Camden. Not sure what she’s doing here either, but hey-ho!”
The sad thing about this hunger strike is that nobody seems to give a hoot. Except Amnesty International and other human rights organisations. This week it said Iran is “attacking civil society” in locking up human rights lawyers and activists.
To be fair to the Islamic Republic, if you lock up dozens of protesters for demanding the right not to cover their hair, or to express political opinions, throwing their lawyers in jail actually makes sense.
Then all you would have to do is throw the lawyers’ lawyers in and, problem solved. In fact, it would make sense to build a human rights lawyer training centre in a new wing of the notorious Evin prison, because that is where they are bound to end up. They could all study there and represent whoever they want from the inside: a welcoming committee for dissenters, free legal aid.
With all the filmmakers, artists and theatre practitioners shooting the breeze inside, there really would be no need to go out, as there would be plenty of entertainment: the Islamic Republic could create a prison society – not a metaphorical one, but a fortified one like the Green Zone in Baghdad during the Iraq war, with its own Burger King.
On Monday, Sotoudeh’s husband, Farhad Khandan, in his last post on Facebook, said he received a phone call on his mobile. It was some bloke from the Iran’s shady security forces instructing him to present himself to them, but he protested: you need a judges’ consent in writing to do that. Needless to say, he too is in prison now and unable to relay his wife’s messages to the world – so roaring a lion is Nasrin Sotoudeh that even locked up she will not bow, highlighting the case of other oppressed individuals on her husband’s Facebook page (beats telling your followers you are having a meltdown because you can’t find your nail clippers – and panda videos).
There appears to be, sadly, something of a news blackout when it comes to the Islamic Republic’s human rights crimes.
So, why am I relaying this information? Largely, because few others are. There appears to be, sadly, something of a news blackout when it comes to the Islamic Republic’s human rights crimes. “Don’t upset the Iranians. They are too important,” seems to be the mantra at the Foreign Office and in news organisations, who should really be fixated on human rights crimes in Iran. They, and not Donald Trump pose an existential threat to the regime.
Last month, 60 European Parliament members wrote to demand Sotoudeh’s release. There was scant reporting on it. The left should be highlighting her case but no one is interested largely because the Islamic Republic is not Israel and, crucially, while it believes on trampling on the rights of its own people, it remains nominally concerned with the lives of Palestinians. Names such as John Lennon-lookalike Arash Sadeghi’s, another wrongly jailed hunger striker, mean nothing to Stop the War Coalition or Jeremy Corbyn.
People working in the media and politics seem to think we shouldn’t bother Iranian contacts too much with headaches in the shape of reportage on human rights abuses. Why let the world know that Iran’s Mandela might soon be liquidating her kidneys to garner attention. Let’s wait for the liver and other organs to go then we can write her obituary.
The Islamic Republic is gobbling up its foremost symbol of peaceful resistance and dedicatee of the rule of law. Politicians must act. Journalists must hold them to account.
Now, if you excuse me, I really fancy a bagel.
[This article was first published in The Independent. To sign the petition, please visit here]