Iranian Hunger Strikers ‘Are Near To Death’

12 09 2009

8:55am UK, Friday September 11, 2009

Lisa Holland, foreign affairs correspondent

More than 1,000 Iranian dissidents are staging a hunger strike at a refugee camp in Iraq – with some close to death, Sky News has been told.

Hunger striker at Camp Ashraf in IraqA hunger striker at Camp Ashraf in pictures obtained by Sky News

The group say they are prepared to die to draw global attention to the case of 36 residents from their community who are being held by Iraqi police.

There has so far been no word about the fate of those arrested.

Not only are residents of Camp Ashraf refusing food, but sympathy hunger strikes are being mounted in western cities across the world by friends and relatives.

In London, there is a round-the-clock protest outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the US Embassy.

Anger is being focused on America because US forces failed to intervene when Iraqi police went to the camp, just under 40 miles north of Baghdad, at the end of July.

Hunger strikers treated at Camp Ashraf, IraqHunger strikers are put on IV drips by nurses at the camp

Residents say 11 people were killed and 400 injured when the Iraqi police and army used live rounds, sound grenades, axes, sticks and bulldozers against them.

Pictures have since emerged of US military vehicles – given to the fledgling Iraqi security forces to establish law and order – seemingly being indiscriminately driven at the crowd.

Iraqi authorities say they had gone to set up a police station but were met with resistance.

The US has refused to intervene – declaring the security of the camp a sovereign issue for the Iraqi government, having handed back security responsibility in line with a troop withdrawal across the country.

Sky News has obtained pictures of hunger strikers inside the camp, which is now effectively closed to the world.

One resident, Hanif Mojtahedzadeh, told us the camp is under siege, with Iraqi forces still inside and outside.

US soldier stands guardUS military jeeps were left in Iraq

He said he heard Iraqi forces during the operation say they were going to kill the men and rape the women.

Amnesty International has called on the international community to intervene, fearing Iran is putting pressure on the Shia-dominated Iraqi government to eliminate the camp of dissidents.

Ironically, the Iranian dissidents were first welcomed into Iraq more than two decades ago by Saddam Hussein, who armed them to fight against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.

These days the community – whose camp is more like a well-established small city – says it is a political movement which has laid down its arms.

The people now find themselves in a dangerous no-man’s land.

If they return to Iran they face persecution.

Those on hunger strike stare death in the face whilst those who do choose to eat say they live in fear of what the Iraqi security forces will do next.



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