‘I’m prepared to continue as long as it takes’- Bells Corners man enters 30th day of hunger strike

3 09 2009
September 02, 2009

Sharam Golest has been on a hunger strike for more than a month, protesting the July 28 raid on a refugee camp in Iraq. Blair Edwards
Sharam Golest grimaces when he is offered a second cup of coffee.Other than iced tea and water, it’s all that’s crossed his lips for the past month, and coffee doesn’t sit well on an empty stomach.

The 49-year-old Bells Corners man has been on a hunger strike since July 29, the day after Iraqi security forces raided Camp Ashraf, a refugee camp near Baghdad that has been home to more than 3,500 Iranian dissidents since 1986.

The raid left 11 dead, 450 wounded and 36 arrested.

“Many of the people in the camp I know.” said Golest. “Many of the residents of the camp have relatives in Kanata, in Ottawa, in Toronto, and in Montreal.”

The camp had been under the protection of American troops stationed in Iraq until last January, when responsibility for the area was handed over to Iraqi forces.

The raid has sparked worldwide protest, with hunger strikes staged outside major capitals such as Berlin, Washington, D.C. and Stockholm.

Golest is one of nine Iranian Canadians from Toronto and Ottawa holding a hunger strike outside the gates of the U.S. embassy in downtown Ottawa.

“The first few days (were) extremely difficult. I believe the body will adapt somehow,” said Golest. “I’ve lost 32 pounds.”

Golest said the hunger strikers struggle with ulcers, stomach problems and hunger.

Last week, a 45-year-old woman named Akram Ataie was taken to hospital over health issues after going without food for 27 days.

Golest said he expects to suffer severe health problems when he enters the 45th day of the hunger strike.

“I’m prepared to continue as long as it takes,” he said.

The protesters are demanding the release of the 36 prisoners and for the U.S. to resume control over Camp Ashraf. They are also asking the Iraqi government to allow international observers into the camp.

Karim Akbar, a Morgan’s Grant man and one of the nine hunger strikers, must divide his time between the protest and his job with the federal government.

The group also includes construction contractors, a housewife and a cab driver.

“Some are teachers,” said Golest. “I don’t know how long they can last because school starts in September.”

DISSIDENTS

Aman Darvish, owner of Darvis Shawarma, a Kanata restaurant, protests outside the embassy for several hours every day.

“I have lots of relatives in the camp,” said the 49 year old. “Some of them were in prison with me, some of them were just related to me.”

Darvish was imprisoned for five years and one month, after he was arrested during a demonstration outside his high school in Bandar Mahshahr, Iran in 1981.

Darvish was in his final year of high school when he joined a group of students protesting against the Ayatollah Khomeini-led government.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard opened fire on the students, said Darvish, killing eight and arresting 35.

Darvish said his trial lasted four minutes and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

For the first six months of his prison term, Darvish was regularly interrogated and tortured; the Kanata business owner said he was taken to a cell, where guards bound his hands and legs and hung him from the ceiling.

The prison guards took turns punching him and striking him with pieces of wood.

“They beat you until they don’t hear anything from you, and you lose consciousness,” said Darvish. “They call it football.”

He was then taken back to a cell, shared with other prisoners.

Darvish said two of his friends, medical students in their second year of study before they were arrested, were lined up against a prison wall and shot to death.

The guards showed Darvish their dead bodies.

“This is your friends,” they told him. “If you don’t give information, we’re going to do the same thing to you.”

Iran’s totalitarian regime forced thousands of dissidents to flee to Camp Ashraf, said Darvish.

Darvish said he can’t just watch the refugees plight and do nothing.

“The only thing I can do is (join) people who are on hunger strike,” he said. “I really can’t see these kind of things and say nothing.”


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