Hunger striker seriously ill outside US embassy in London
Photo: Girish Gupta

Hunger striker seriously ill outside US embassy in London

| Aug. 13, 2009 | London, England

Published by

Photo: Girish Gupta

A seriously ill woman is determined to carry on her hunger strike outside the US embassy in London in protest over alleged torture of Iranian exiles at a refugee camp in Iraq, she said today.

Fatemeh Khezrie, 44, began her protest 17 days ago taking neither food nor water when she heard about an Iraqi police raid on Camp Ashraf that led to the death of at least seven Iranians. She immediately flew from Italy to London, where she has since been camped outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square as one of a group of 10 hunger strikers. Her sister, Farzaneh, is staging a parallel hunger strike in the camp.

After seven days with neither food nor water, Khezrie was taken to St Mary's hospital where doctors put her on a fluid drip, but she removed it and returned to the embassy on hunger strike. However, yesterday she announced that despite her deteriorating health she would stop taking fluids again as she feels the British and US governments, as well as the media, are taking no notice.

Lying on a makeshift bed outside the embassy yesterday, as the protesters showed footage of the attack on the camp, she said: "I think the current regime in Iraq is worse than Saddam Hussein's."

Khezrie wants the release of 36 Camp Ashraf residents still held by Iraqi forces and for the US to "abide by its international legal obligations" and take over the security of the camp. She has also asked humanitarian organisations and the UN to intervene.

She said she had tried to arrange a meeting with the US charge d'affaires, Richard LeBaron, but claims he refuses to meet her.

Camp Ashraf has been home to 3,500 Iranian dissidents since 1986, when Saddam Hussein's government allowed members of the Mujahideen -e-Khalq (MEK) militia, listed as a terrorist group by Britain and the European Union until earlier this year, to base themselves there.

In January US forces handed over control of the camp, in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, to the Iraqi government. Police used water cannon and tear gas to seize the base on 28 July. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern at the Iraqi forces' tactics and called for an independent investigation. The raid followed six months of warnings from Iraqi officials and visits by senior government delegations from Baghdad.

"We are monitoring events at Camp Ashraf, and British embassy officials have met US colleagues to discuss the current situation," said a spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "We are aware of reports of casualties on both sides, but have been unable to verify them at this stage."

Iran has pledged to allow a safe return to MEK members who renounce their past. The MEK launched a series of suicide bombings and guerrilla attacks against Iranian targets after the 1979 Islamic revolution. It has not launched a militant attack since 2001.

Hours before the Iraqi move, the MEK leader Maryam Rajavi announced that members would be prepared to return to Iran, subject to assurances about their safety.