Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Hunger strikers end fast, claiming 'huge victory for humanity'
A dozen fasters from across Barnet have refused food for more than ten weeks in an attempt to convince international forces to help 36 fellow Iranians taken hostage from an Iraqi refugee camp in July.
Today the refugees were safely returned to Camp Ashraf from a military base in Baghdad, where they were being held by the Iraqi Government.
Many of the hostages, who were also on a hunger strike, are seriously ill and have been taken to Ashraf medical center for treatment.
Zohreh Zanjani, 47, from Mill Hill East, has been sleeping in a makeshift shelter with fellow protesters outside the US Embassy, in Grosvenor Square, since the fast began. She voiced delight at the men's release.
She said: "It feels like we have been born again. Everyone in Iran and everyone here is extremely happy.
"This is the beginning of the end for the Iranian regime. People know change is on the way.
"Everyone here is crying, dancing, singing. Celebrations will continue late into the night. It is a truly wonderful moment.
"We know we will have health problems later, but that is nothing compared to what we have achieved."
The 36 hostages were all members of the Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), who have resided at the camp since the 1980s to escape prosecution in Iran.
Huge international pressure, prompted by the Barnet hunger strikers, helped bring about their release.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, the vice president of the European Parliament, Dr Alejo Vidal-Quadras, and the former Prime Minister of Algeria, Sid Ahmed Ghozali, all condemned the Iraqi regime for failing to release the refugees, despite three separate rulings by Iraqi judges.
Yesterday Amnesty International joined the chorus of voices denouncing the actions of Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Al-Maliki.
The hunger strikers' spokesman, Saeed Abed, 54, from Watford Way, Hendon, said: "This is a huge victory for the people of Iran, for democracy, for humanity.
"It is a great achievement, and I am very pleased for the hunger strikers. They very bravely stood by and did not bow down to the demands of the Iranian regime, who wanted to destroy them.
According to the PMOI, all the hostages were beaten and wounded, and seven of them were unconscious, at the time of their abduction.
They were reportedly imprisoned for several days in "appalling" conditions outside Ashraf, before being moved to a jail near Baghdad.
They were held on the grounds of illegal entry into Iraq more than 23 years ago, when Camp Ashraf was first established.
However, the return of the hostages is just one of the hunger strikers' demands. They vowed to resume their fast if UN and US forces did not agree to monitor the camp and provide security from Iraqi forces.
Mr Abed said: "The hunger strikers have only stopped on the condition the protection of Camp Ashraf is guaranteed, otherwise we will be in the same situation again."