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Mother’s Protest to speak to her children over phone: Iranian Human Rights Defender Narges Mohammadi on hunger strike

Narges was first imprisoned in April 2012 and was released three months later on medical grounds

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Narges Mohamadi. Image source: themediaexpress.com
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  • Narges Mohammadi, a human rights activist won 2009 Alexander Langer Award for her human rights activities and City of Paris medal for her peaceful activism
  • An unfair trial in April 2016 convicted Narges Mohammadi with the charges of “founding an illegal group”, “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”, and “spreading propaganda against the system”
  • She has been on hunger strike since June 27, in protest at the prison authorities’ refusal to let her speak with her nine-year-old children

Narges Mohammadi, the Iranian human rights defender has been on hunger strike since June 27 in protest at the prison authorities’ refusal to let her speak with her nine-year-old children. Despite suffering from several medical conditions, she continues on with her protest endangering her health and life.

An unfair trial in April 2016 convicted Narges Mohammadi with the charges of “founding an illegal group”, “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”, and “spreading propaganda against the system”. She received a 16-year prison sentence after she was convicted when she was already serving a six-year prison sentence from a previous case. Even the UN high commissioner for human rights joined the  chorus of international disapproval as Tehran revolutionary court sentenced her, reported the Guardian.

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Mohammadi and her two kids.Image Source: Twitter
Mohammadi and her two kids.Image Source: Twitter

Narges was first imprisoned in April 2012 and was released three months later on medical grounds to receive treatment for a health condition that caused partial paralysis. Again, she was arrested, in May 2015 to serve the remainder of the six-year term when and was taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison. In October 2015, she suffered several seizures and was hospitalized.

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“I have always said that, in a land where [each of] being a woman, being a mother and being a human rights defender is difficult on their own, being all three is an unforgivable crime… and here I am, in my own homeland, convicted and imprisoned for the crime of being a human rights defender, a feminist and an opponent of the death penalty,”she says in her letter dated 27 June 2016.

Image Source: Twitter
Image Source: Twitter

As there was nobody to look after her children after her arrest in May 2015, they moved abroad with their father. And now, she is not able to speak to them as the authorities have denied her the telephone. Since her arrest in May, she has been allowed only one phone call with them.

“I am left wondering how to tell Ali and Kiana, who have only heard Narges’s voice once over the past year, that their mother has got another 10 years in prison,” says Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani to Amnesty.

In a letter she wrote from inside Evin Prison on 27 June announcing her hunger strike, she says,” Despite my reluctance and poor physical condition, there is no way left for me other than to stage a hunger strike to make my cry that ‘I am a mother’ and ‘I miss my children’ be heard… I have no request other than to be able to have contact with my children on the telephone. If my request is too great, unreasonable, immoral, unlawful and against national security, then tell me. If a mother who is considered a criminal in the eyes of the authorities must be denied the right to speak to her children, then announce it, otherwise let this mother hear the voices of her children.

According to theguardian.com reports, she suffers from a pulmonary embolism and a neurological disorder that has resulted in her experiencing seizures and temporary partial paralysis. When specialized care which she doesn’t receive in prison is required, she puts her life at risk through this hunger strike in a desperate attempt to listen to the voice of her kids.

Narges Mohammadi is a human rights activist who had won the Alexander Langer Award in 2009 for her human rights activities, especially her efforts to end the death penalty for juvenile offenders in Iran and recently, she received the City of Paris medal for her peaceful activism.

– prepared by Ajay Krishna of Newsgram. Twitter: @ajkrish14

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The Attention Shifts To The U.S. As It Strikes Down FGM Law

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

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FILE - A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016.Image source: VOA

When a U.S. district judge last month ruled a federal ban on female genital mutilation unconstitutional, he undercut the federal government and alarmed anti-FGM activists, who hope to eradicate the practice.

The World Health Organization calls FGM, also known as female circumcision, a human rights violation of women and girls, with no health benefits.

Some 200 million women and girls around the world, mainly in Africa, have experienced FGM, the WHO says.

In his opinion, Judge Bernard Friedman called FGM “despicable,” but also “a local criminal activity” that must be addressed at the state level. In enacting a federal law, he said, Congress overstepped.

Now, local lawmakers, advocates and newspapers are calling for state bans that equal or surpass the scope of the federal law that was struck down.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, judge
A badge reads “The power of labor against FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 6, 2018. (VOA)

‘Never again’

The case Friedman ruled on centers around Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, an emergency room physician accused of performing FGM on at least 100 girls in Michigan for more than a decade.

Prosecutors have focused their case on nine girls, aged 7 to 12, from three states. The girls allegedly were subjected to FGM with the aid of Nagarwala and seven others, including the girls’ mothers.

Defense attorneys say the procedure amounted to only a “nick” on the girls performed as part of a religious ritual — not FGM. But they also argued in July that the federal law banning FGM is unconstitutional.

State Senator Rick Jones, who represents Michigan’s 24th district, told VOA by phone that he was shocked to learn about Nagarwala’s case and strongly disagrees with Friedman’s ruling.

Last year, Jones became the spokesperson for a package of bills outlawing FGM statewide. The legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Female Circumcision, FGM
The barbaric practice of genitalia mutilation has been banned in developed nations. Wikimedia

Now, Michigan has some of the toughest FGM laws in the country.

Health-care providers convicted of performing FGM face up to 15 years in prison, along with the permanent loss of their medical licenses. Parents who take their daughters to doctors to be cut can lose custody.

The 1996 federal law, meanwhile, stipulated up to five years in prison and fines for medical providers who perform FGM.

“We wanted to send a strong message around the world: Never again bring your girls to Michigan for this horrible procedure,” Jones said.

Across the U.S., 27 states have passed laws banning FGM, many of which have been written in recent years and include penalties that go beyond the federal law, which also criminalizes so-called “vacation cutting,” the practice of taking girls out of the United States to have FGM performed overseas.

News organizations are among those pushing for an expansion of state laws. Last month, the Seattle Times editorial board called for a ban in Washington, one of 23 states yet to outlaw FGM.

FGM
A doctor checks her phone as she poses for a photograph in Mumbai, India, June 8, 2016. The 50-year-old woman defends what is widely considered female genital mutilation within her small, prosperous Dawoodi Bohra community in India. VOA

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times editorial board said all 50 states should ban the “barbaric” practice, in light of Friedman’s ruling.

Religious ritual?

The health-care providers and families involved in the Michigan case belong to Dawoodi Bohra, a Shi’ite Muslim sect based in India with about 2 million followers worldwide.

According to a study published earlier this year, FGM, called khafd in Dawoodi Bohra communities, is widespread in the sect and involves cutting the clitoral hood or part of the clitoris, without an anesthetic, when girls turn seven.

The study, commissioned by WeSpeakOut, an advocacy group focused on eradicating khafd, also found that three-quarters of Dawoodi Bohra women have experienced FGM.

The severity and nature of FGM can vary.

Health-care providers have identified four types of FGM. Khafd involves Type 1 FGM. Other types involve removing all of the external genitalia and narrowing the vaginal opening.

Jones rejects the idea that there’s a religious basis for the procedure, however it’s performed.

FGM
FILE – A counselor holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM). VOA

“Across the world, this has been practiced by Christians, pagans, Muslims, even a small Jewish sect in Ethiopia,” he said.

“This is not about a religion,” he added. “This is about men attempting to control women’s behavior by this horrible procedure.”

The WHO identifies both short-term and permanent harms associated with the practice. Immediate concerns include severe pain, infections and, in some cases, death. Long term, women and girls subjected to FGM face a range of physiological and psychological complications that can affect menstruation, childbirth and sexual health.

The United States has been unequivocal in condemning the practice, saying “the U.S. government considers FGM/C to be a serious human rights abuse, and a form of gender-based violence and child abuse” on a fact sheet posted to the Citizenship & Immigration Services website.

Education and legislation

Friedman’s November decision is the latest in a series of setbacks for prosecutors.

Nagarwala spent seven months in 2017 in jail before 16 friends posted a $4.5 million unsecured bond, against the pleas of prosecutors, who argued Nagarwala could silence potential witnesses or even flee the country if released.

FGM
KAMELI, KENYA – AUGUST 12: A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. Maasai are a pastoral group mostly clustered in the Rift Valley. They practice circumcision on both boys and girls during puberty years as a rite of passage to adulthood. VOA

And in January, the judge dismissed charges that Nagarwala and a second doctor, Fakhruddin Attar, transported minors with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, an offense that carries a lifetime sentence.

Nagarwala still faces conspiracy and obstruction charges that could result in decades in prison.

The trial is now set to begin next April, the Detroit Free Press reported last month. However, the prosecution could appeal last month’s decision, drawing the case out further.

Also Read: Somalia Calls To Outlaw Female Genital Mutilation

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

“What we have to do is continue to fight this worldwide. This is a global problem,” Jones said.

“It is a violation of human rights,” he said. “And I’m going to continue speaking out worldwide against this horrible, horrible practice that must end.” (VOA)