Farhad Meysami, a longtime civil activist who protested the mandatory hijab, was released from prison on Friday, February 10th.
“The greatest power mankind has is non-violence.” This quote was written on the first page of Farhad Meysami’s latest book, which was a Persian translation of The Nonviolence Handbook, a Guide for Practical Action written by Dr. Michael Nagler—a famous scholar of non-violence and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Meysami dedicates this book to all activists who have suffered including prison and exile, dismissal, salary cuts, and all kinds of social exclusion.
Dr. Farhad Meysami is an Iranian doctor, teacher, translator, civil activist, and human rights defender. He was born in Tehran on November 17, 1969. He has spent two decades of his life extensively studying and practicing non-violence and human rights, social effort, and civil struggle.
His career focused on non-violence stands in stark contrast to his upbringing in a community where violence was ubiquitous. “I grew up in a subculture where violence was not only a basic element, but also a valuable tool at my disposal. In terms of personality type, I was quite capable of raising it,” he said. He studied medicine at the University of Tehran after achieving a high rank in the national entrance exam in 1986.
Meysami preferred being a teacher over a doctor based on his own assessment of society’s basic priorities. After completing his general doctorate studies, he abandoned his pathology specialization course, and after some private teaching, he founded the Andisheh Sazan Cultural and Publishing Institute. The institution published a variety of books, including poems and novels, but became famous for its textbooks and classes to help students pass the university exam named “Conkor”.
He focused his activities on writing and publishing educational help books for thinkers and the institution’s management after a short teaching period. It was a unique record to publish more than six million books for entrance exam candidates. However, according to some of his friends, he did not abandon his civil activities during this period. As part of the institute’s work, he also organized programs such as tree planting and blood donation on the sidelines.
Closure of Andisheh Sazan
Despite the financial success of Andisheh Sazan, Meysami made the decision to close the institute in 2005. Meysami stated that he was unsatisfied with the organization because its contributions were primarily limited to the entrance exam field rather than the cultural field. From the remaining income and capital of his institute, Dr. Meysami opened an office on “Enghelab” street to engage in cultural activities of his choice. During these meetings, he discussed philosophy, science, theater, and history in small groups.
Dr. Farhad Meysami also set up his home library here. His office was where he conducted research and communicated scientific and cultural information. Following the protests of 2009, he asked the prisoners to provide him with a list of books or the names of any books they wanted. On the first day of school, Meysami would visit the children with gifts of stationery, bags, and books, according to the family of one of these prisoners.
The question of whether or not government reform is achievable is fundamentally misplaced according to Dr. Meysami, and is intended to reverse the problem, since active reform is the product of a nation’s historical and unconquerable will that brings about change with its irresistible efforts. As part of the same framework, he supported the girls of Enghelab Street in their “non-violent civil activity.”
As a result of his opposition to mandatory hijab, Meysami was arrested.
The Ministry of Information agents arrested him after entering and searching Meysami’s office on July 31, 2018. The agents seized images with the text “I do not agree with the mandatory hijab” and “I object to the mandatory hijab,” several covers of the book “Small Actions of Standing”, and Mohammad Jaafar Puyandeh’s book “On Human Rights”. After his arrest, Meysami immediately began his hunger strike.
After 19 days, his mother and friends learned about his hunger strike. The first hunger strike of Farhad Meysami lasted for a long time. In protest against Reza Khandan’s arrest, the husband of Nasrin Sotoudeh, and until his release, he announced a “dry food strike” in which he stopped drinking water and other beverages, on the 37th day of his strike. He also called for the cancellation of the summons, interrogation, and investigation of Zhila Makvandi and Davood Farhadpour.
His dry hunger strike greatly worried his family and a group of activists. Numerous letters, statements, and requests were sent to try to dissuade him. Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights activist and imprisoned lawyer, joined Meysami and refused to eat from September 3rd. His health and the dangers that threatened his life concerned many political, cultural, and civil figures. 2,222 doctors, publishers, academics, and graduates of the country expressed concern over Meysami’s health on September 29, 2018.
A Twitter storm of cyberspace users, which was carried out with the hashtag #Jan_Farhad, underscored people’s demands for his release, which were echoed by a UN rapporteur and Amnesty International. People across the world joined in expressing concern for Meysami’s wellbeing.
Four American university professors (Francis Fukuyama, Larry Diamond, Michael McFaul, and Abbas Milani) published an article in the Washington Post newspaper on December 14th, urging citizens, activists, human rights organizations, and democratic governments in the world to speak to Iranian leaders.
Meysami refused Pompeo’s support
The U.S. Department of State called for Meysami’s release and expressed concern about his rapidly deteriorating physical and health conditions in a Twitter message that year. On December 23, Farhad Meysami ended his months-long hunger strike after the release of Reza Khandan.
Immediately after ending the hunger strike, he wrote a letter titled “A twin letter about Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court and Trump’s Foreign Ministry.”
He criticized the judiciary and the way his accusations were handled in Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, refused the United States help and wrote: “I would rather spend all my life imprisoned by a group of oppressors from my own wrong-doing countrymen and spend my life trying to reform their wrongdoing, but to not spend a second submitting to disgraceful support from those who broke their commitments and withdrew from the rational and peaceful JCPOA against all principles of morality and international law, and by reimposing inhumane sanctions, have plunged millions of my fellow countrymen into poverty.”
The Revolutionary Court sentenced Meysami and Reza Khandan to 6 years in prison, of which five years were enforceable. In July 2019, the appeals court confirmed this preliminary verdict.
On November 9, 2019, Meysami was transferred from Ward 8 of Evin Prison to Ward 4, Hall 11 of Rajai Shahr Prison, Karaj.
The media reported that he was infected with COVID-19 in Rajai Shahr prison in October 2020. Meysami was transferred from Rajai Shahr Prison to Karaj Revolutionary Court on February 18, 2022. A branch of the investigation accused him of spreading propaganda against the system. Dr. Meysami launched another hunger strike in May of this year to stop Ahmadreza Jalali from being executed.
Meysami’s condition worsened and he was hospitalized. The judiciary system didn’t execute Dr. Jalali, so Farhad Meysami ended his hunger strike on June 2nd. “I suspended my hunger strike and ate two spoonfuls of Bahar Naranj from the Honorable Shahabi family (Reza Shahabi, political prisoner and union member) in tea at the hospital.”
Meysami followed the situation closely from prison. As evidence of Dr. Meysami’s commitment to nonviolence, the translation of the nonviolence handbook, a guide for practical action was published online and made available for free in the fall of 2022. Although he himself was one of the pioneers of the protest against mandatory hijab and the struggle for equality, Meysami followed the developments of society carefully and with concern.
Following the killing of “Mahsa Amini”, he published an open letter from prison supporting the protests and criticizing the mandatory hijab. In the letter, he called the Gashte Ershad “a national harrassment patrol” and unveiled his three-part action plan that he planned to implement during his incarceration. He wrote: “To protest the repression and killings of this national harassment, I will begin a three-part action from prison starting on Sunday (October 2).”
Meysami’s “three-step action” was to abstain from solid food in the first step, to translate educational texts or write related texts in the second step, and to take long daily walks as part of the third step. As of Saturday, December 11, Meysami was prohibited from contacting anyone outside the prison.
In order to continue the three-stage action, Dr. Meysami demanded the immediate release of Mohammad Habibi (teacher), Nahid Shirbisheh (mother of Pouya Bakhtiari), Reza Shahabi (bus workers), Bahare Hedayat (women’s rights activist), Mostafa Nili (lawyer) and Nilufar Hamedi (journalist). IranWire reported that Rajai Shahr prison authorities increased their pressure on Farhad Maysami and on Monday, January 3, 2023, between 1:30 and 2:00, Dr. Meysami was physically attacked in his room and his few cultural possessions were destroyed as well.
As a result of the hunger strike and the “three-part action”, Meysami’s weight decreased to 56 kilos, and his health was at an alarming level. According to BBC Persian, Dr. Meysami announced in a letter “for the days of suffering” that he will drink bitter water for ten days as a sign of “a time more bitter than poison.” Then, on Friday, February 10, Meysami was released from prison a few months before his sentence was complete. He refused to post bail, according to his lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, but was released regardless.
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