On Hunger Strikes and Roxana Saberi

Download PDF

A few months ago I saw “Hunger,” a disturbing movie about the hunger strike of IRA member Bobbie Sands in Maze Prison in Northern Ireland — a hunger strike that ended in his death.  When hunger strikes started being used as a means of protest or to call attention to a cause — I believe it was in the 1970s — they were considered quite extraordinary and powerful.

A picture taken on Septmber 17, 2003 shows US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi filming footage in Tehran. (c) BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

A picture taken on Septmber 17, 2003 shows US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi filming footage in Tehran. (c) BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Now after so many hunger strikes by so many different people who have sought to draw attention to causes both weighty and trivial, many of us barely notice when someone goes on a hunger strike.  But we have been forced to rethink hunger strikes lately as imprisoned journalist Roxana Saberi decided to initiate a higher strike shortly before her 32nd birthday to protest the eight-year prison sentence she was given after her conviction for espionage by a Revolutionary Court in Iran. She has been on a hunger strike for more than a week now, and her father Reza Saberi reports that his small-framed daughter has become very frail.  She has announced that she will continue her hunger strike until she is released.

Roxana Saberi’s situation, her picture and her hunger strike, have been widely publicized in the news media.  Many of us feel a personal connection to Roxana Saberi, especially after reading the impassioned letter written by her fiance, the great Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi.  Yesterday, Reporters Without Borders announced their own solidarity hunger strike; several journalists have pledged to substitute their own hunger strikes so that Roxana Saberi does not have to carry this burden herself.

When we read about Roxana Saberi’s determination, we become alarmed, we admire her and wonder if she would really go through with it to the end, and if the Iranian authorities will finally do the right thing and release her from the horrible Evin Prison where so many Iranians have endured torture and miserable conditions; many have died there.  We also might wonder what we ourselves would be willing to do — and how far we would be willing to go — to protest an injustice.  Maybe some of us will be inspired to carry out our own solidarity hunger strike; many thousands have already responded to Amnesty International’s action by sending letters to the Iranian government.  If any of you have ideas about creative actions we can take to support his courageous woman, please share them on this blog.  Thank you.

By Elise Auerbach, Amnesty International USA Iran country specialist