Human rights activists in Iran said they were concerned about the hunger strike of a man who was reportedly jailed for protesting against the rules requiring women to wear a hijab.
Farhad Meysami, 48, a doctor and publisher before becoming a civil activist, was arrested in his office in July and taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
After a wave of hijab protests, Iranian authorities cracked down on activists. Meysami was accused of possessing badges stating: “I am against the compulsory hijab.”
In recent months, a number of women have been arrested for defying hijab rules in public; standing on telecom boxes, taking off their headscarves and waving them on a stick. It has sparked a nationwide debate about the obligatory nature of the rules, drawing in previously silent members of the Iranian parliament.
Meysami has been accused of “collusion and conspiracy to threaten national security”, “disseminating propaganda against the establishment” and “insulting the hijab, an essential sacrament of Islam”, according to Iran’s Human Rights Activists news agency (HRANA).
He has also been charged with “provoking women to appear without hijab in the street”.
A number of other activists and lawyers have been arrested in connection with the protests. Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer, was arrested in June after speaking out about a number of her clients being arrested for defying the hijab rules.
Sotoudeh has also been on hunger strike since 25 August. She said it was “to protest various detentions and pressures by the judiciary against my family, associates and friends”, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). The EU has expressed concerns about her ongoing incarceration.
Meysami’s hunger strike is about “unjustified accusations and being denied a lawyer of his choice”, a close associate told the Guardian.
“Do you think wearing a badge that says ‘I am against forced hijab’ is a crime?” Amnesty International tweeted. “Iranian authorities do. They’ve arrested human rights defender Farhad Meysami and charged him with national security offences for supporting Iranian women’s campaign against this degrading practice.”
Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, said the authorities made an abusive phone call to Meysami’s mother in the middle of the night, playing her an audio clip that sounded like her son being beaten in prison.
“The woman has been gripped with muscle cramps since she heard the calls,” Khandan said, according to CHRI.
Dozens of students remain in jail after being arrested this year for participating in peaceful protests. It emerged this week that a Tehran University student, Parisa Rafei, 21, had been sentenced to seven years’ jail for “assembly with the intention of acting against national security, propaganda against the system and disrupting public order”.