Narges Mohammadi: jailed Nobel winner on hunger strike in Iran

Narges Mohammadi: jailed Nobel winner on hunger strike in Iran

Author's hunger strike challenges medical neglect and Iranian hijab law

by Suswati Basu
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Narges Mohammadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate known for her human rights activism, has initiated a hunger strike within the confines of Evin Prison, Tehran. Her protest spotlights two critical issues: the neglect of medical care for incarcerated individuals and the compulsory hijab rule imposed on Iranian women, according to an announcement made by her family on on Monday (November 6, 2023).

“Narges went on a hunger strike today in 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. Islamic Republic is responsible for anything that happens to our beloved Narges.”

Narges Mohammadi’s family

Mohammadi’s act of defiance intensifies the scrutiny on Iran’s theocratic regime, especially following her Nobel recognition received only a month before. Her protest addresses the restricted access to medical care for prisoners, an issue that is not only isolated to her own circumstances. Nasrin Sotoudeh, another activist, is among those affected by this denial of healthcare.

Read: Nasrin Sotoudeh: Iranian author held after metro death funeral

The ‘Free Narges Mohammadi’ campaign relayed a message from the prison, confirming that Mohammadi had declared her hunger strike to her family. It has been reported that both Mohammadi and her attorney have been tirelessly requesting her transfer to a specialised medical facility to treat her heart and lung condition.

In a statement, Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, expressed deep concern for Mohammadi’s wellbeing. Reiss-Andersen condemned the hijab requirement for hospitalised female prisoners as “inhumane and morally unacceptable,” and called upon Iranian authorities to provide Mohammadi and others with necessary medical aid.

“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.”

Berit Reiss-Andersen, Norwegian Nobel Committee Chair

PEN International joined in expressing alarm over Mohammadi’s health, holding Iranian authorities entirely accountable for the perilous state of her life. They assert Mohammadi’s imprisonment is unjustified and demand her immediate release and urgent medical treatment.

Who is Narges Mohammadi and what books did she write?

Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian journalist and human rights defender, holds honorary memberships in Danish, Belgian, Norwegian, and Swedish PEN. She previously served as the Vice-President and spokesperson of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) alongside Dr Shirin Ebadi, advocating for human rights reform and representing political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in legal proceedings.

Mohammadi is married to the prominent journalist Taghi Rahmani, who spent 17 years in prison and fled Iran in May 2011. He now lives in exile with their thirteen-year-old twins, while Mohammadi chose to remain in Iran, enduring the pain of separation from her children.

In October 2023, PEN International applauded the Nobel Committee's decision to award Narges Mohammadi the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her efforts to promote human rights and freedom for all. She received the prize for her book "White Torture: Interviews with Iranian Women Prisoners," featuring the voices of 14 women, including British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was released in March 2022.

Why is Narges Mohammadi in prison?

As of August 2023, Mohammadi is serving a ten-year, nine-month sentence and 154 lashes after unfair trials. PEN International expressed deep concerns about further retaliatory convictions as Iranian authorities initiated investigations into her activism and writings in prison since January 2023. Mohammadi's health deteriorated in prison due to lung and heart issues exacerbated by poor detention conditions. She has faced retaliatory sentences for her human rights activism and writings since 2015. She was re-arrested in November 2021 after her release in October 2020 following a five-and-a-half-year prison term.

What condition does she have?

Mohammadi faces a neurological disorder that can lead to seizures, temporary partial paralysis, and pulmonary embolisms. She experienced seizures in August and October 2015 and later in 2019. Reports indicate that she was hospitalised on these occasions, with at least one instance of being returned to prison against medical advice. In a subsequent incident, she was handcuffed to her hospital bed during the initial days of her stay.
Watch interview: Why freedom is important – with Until We Are Free author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Shirin Ebad

In an ongoing struggle for women’s autonomy in Iran, Mohammadi has also decried the alleged “murder” of 17-year-old Armita Garawand, who activists claim died due to morality police brutality for not wearing a hijab—a charge Iran vehemently denies.

Even from her prison cell, Mohammadi has fought for her rights. She has subsequently thanked the Nobel Committee for the prize and she characterised the mandatory hijab as a tool of societal control pivotal to the survival of Iran’s authoritarian regime. Her hunger strike and her accolades stand as a testament to her enduring commitment to human rights and women’s freedom in Iran.

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