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Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi goes on hunger strike while imprisoned in Iran

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Nobel Peace Prize winner began a hunger strike on Monday after being denied access to medical care along with other prisoners and to protest the country’s mandatory headscarves for women, according to a campaign advocating for the activist.

The decision by 51-year-old Mohammadi increases pressure on Iran’s theocracy over her detention, a month after she was awarded the Nobel Prize for her years of activism, despite a decades-long government campaign against her.

Meanwhile, another activist is locked up, the lawyer , is reportedly in need of medical care that she has yet to receive. She was arrested while attending a funeral of a teenage girl who died under disputed circumstances on the Tehran metro while not wearing a hijab.

The Free Narges Mohammadi campaign said she sent a message from Evin prison and “informed her family that she had started a hunger strike several hours ago.” Mohammadi and her lawyer have been seeking a transfer to a specialized hospital for heart and lung care for weeks.

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It did not elaborate on what conditions Mohammadi was suffering from, although it was described that she received an echocardiogram of her heart.

“Narges went on a hunger strike today… protesting two things: the Islamic Republic’s policy of delaying and neglecting medical care for sick prisoners, resulting in the loss of health and life of individuals. The policy of ‘death’ or ‘mandatory hijab’ for Iranian women,” the statement said.

It added that the Islamic Republic “is responsible for everything that happens to our beloved Narges.”

Iranian officials and the state-controlled television network did not immediately acknowledge Mohammadi’s hunger strike, which is common in cases involving activists there. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While women hold jobs, academic positions and even government appointments, their lives are tightly controlled. Women are required by law to wear a headscarf or hijab to cover their hair. Iran and neighboring Afghanistan remain the only countries that make this mandatory. However, since Amini’s death, more and more women are choosing not to wear it, despite an increasing campaign from the authorities and companies that serve them.

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Mohammadi has continued her activism despite numerous arrests by Iranian authorities and years behind bars. She has remained a guiding light for nationwide women-led protests, sparked by the death last year of a 22-year-old woman in police custody, which have become one of the most intense challenges to Iran’s theocratic government.

That woman, Mahsa Amini, had been arrested for allegedly not wearing her headscarf as ordered by authorities. In October, teenager Armita Geravand suffered a head injury while riding the Tehran subway without a hijab. Geravand’s parents appeared in state media footage saying a blood pressure problem, a fall or perhaps both contributed to their daughter’s injury. Activists abroad claim Geravand may have been pushed or attacked for not wearing the hijab. She died weeks later.

Authorities arrested Sotoudeh, a 60-year-old human rights lawyer, while she was attending Geravand’s funeral. PEN America, which advocates for freedom of expression worldwide, said last week that “50 police and security personnel attacked the peaceful group, beating some and dragging others over gravestones as they were arrested.”

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Sotoudeh was not wearing a hijab at the time of her arrest, according to PEN America, and suffered a head injury that led to long-lasting headaches.

“Her arrest was already a shame, but there is no world in which violence against a writer and human rights lawyer can be justified,” Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said in a statement.

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