Jailed Iranian Nobel winner on hunger strike after being denied medical care for not wearing hijab

As It Happens6:43Jailed Iranian Nobel winner on hunger strike after being denied medical care without hijab

Narges Mohammadi refuses to wear a hijab, even if it means prison officials won’t take her to hospital for urgently needed medical treatment.

Now the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner is on hunger strike to protest her treatment. And according to her friends and supporters, other inmates are joining her.

“She’s using every chance she gets to be the voice of Iranian women and, you know, stand in solidarity with other women who are refusing to wear a forced hijab,” Reihane Taravati, a friend of Mohammadi, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

“The world should notice this. This is the least we could do for her and for the women of Iran.”

Taravati, a Paris-based photographer, is acting as an English-speaking spokesperson for Mohammadi’s family, who also live in exile in France. 

Mohammadi, a women’s rights activist incarcerated at Tehran’s Evin Prison, began her strike on Tuesday, according to a statement from her family. 

As of this article’s publication, she hadn’t consumed anything but water, sugar and salt for 48 hours, and has refused medication.

Taravati says she’s received word from other activists that at least seven of Mohammadi’s cellmates have joined her in her hunger strike.

“I think it’s really touching and it’s really beautiful. It shows that everybody loves her so much,” Taravati said.

WATCH | Iranian activist wins Nobel Peace Prize in prison:

Jailed Iranian women’s activist wins Nobel Peace Prize

Featured VideoNarges Mohammadi — currently imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison — has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.’

Mohammadi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in October, had heart surgery last year, and her family and friends say she needs immediate heart and lung treatment.

“The doctors said it’s urgent that she goes now, and they refuse to take her because Narges says that she’s not going to wear a hijab for her transfer to hospital,” Taravati said.

In a written statement, Mohammadi family says she is protesting two things: “The policy of delaying and neglecting medical care for sick inmates, resulting in the loss of the health and lives of individuals,” and “the policy of ‘death’ or ‘mandatory hijab’ for Iranian women.”

“[The] Islamic Republic is responsible for anything that happens to our beloved Narges,” the statement reads. 

Hijabs have been mandatory for women in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The sometimes violent enforcement of that law has been at the heart of protests across the country since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last year.

Amini was detained for not wearing her headscarf to the liking of authorities, and died in police custody. Iran maintains she suffered a heart attack, but her supporters, citing eye-witness accounts, say she was beaten to death by police.

Amini’s death fuelled the Iran “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, which has seen more women refuse to comply with the mandatory hijab law, risking their freedom and potentially their lives. 

A protester stands with a noose around her neck beside a poster.
A woman in Turkey takes part in a protest against the Islamic regime of Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini. (Dilara Senkaya/Reuters)

The Norwegian Nobel Committee on Monday urged Iranian authorities to give Mohammadi the medical help she needs.

“The requirement that female inmates must wear a hijab in order to be hospitalized, is inhumane and morally unacceptable,” the committee said.

Neither Iran’s judiciary nor its mission to the United Nations responded to requests for comment.

‘Full of life’

Mohammadi has been arrested more than a dozen times for her activism, and this is her third stint in Evin Prison since 2012. 

She is currently serving multiple sentences amounting to about 12 years imprisonment on charges that include spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic.

Human Rights Watch has called for her immediate and unconditional release.

Four people stand side by side outside. One is holding a microphone.
From left to right, Reporters Without Borders secretary general Christophe Deloire, Narges Mohammadi’s husband Taghi Rahmani, her son Ali Rahmani and lawyer Chirinne Ardakani hold a press conference in Paris on Oct. 6 to celebrate Mohammadi’s Nobel Prize win. (Z.O./Middle East Images/AFP/Getty Images)

Taravati first met Mohammadi a year ago during an all-day photoshoot at the activist’s home, and has remained in touch since.

She says Mohammadi’s family members are very worried about her — especially her 17-year-old twin children. 

“But also at the same point, they’re proud,” she said. “And they hope this can end soon. And [that] she would be able to receive the medical care she needs.”

She described Mohammadi as a kind, supportive person, who loves to dance and sing, and who often acts like a mother figure to those around her.

“She’s full of life,” Taravati said. “To see a person with that personality … spending all her life in prison, it’s so sad.”

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview with Reihane Taravati produced by Leslie Amminson.

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