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‘I nearly died on hunger strike for justice’: Iranian refugee protests for release of seven hostages

Zahra Dowlaty and Touran Ranjbar are fighting to raise awareness of alleged massacres and hostage-taking of Iranian dissidents under the Iranian regime. Picture: Polly Hancock Zahra Dowlaty and Touran Ranjbar are fighting to raise awareness of alleged massacres and hostage-taking of Iranian dissidents under the Iranian regime. Picture: Polly Hancock

Thursday, June 26, 2014
3:00 PM

Going without food for 101 days, the woman on the right of this picture came close to death by campaigning for the release of seven Iranian hostages in Iraq.

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Touran Ranjbar, 51, has been left with rotting teeth and permanent muscle damage after surviving on sugar cubes and water for more than three months.

Miss Ranjbar, of Tufnell Park, began her protest after the alleged killing of 52 political prisoners at Iraq’s Camp Ashraf, which houses Iranian dissidents.

Iraqi forces are accused of responsibility for the killings and of taking seven Iranians hostage in the attacks on September 1.

“It was so painful,” said Miss Ranjbar, who spoke of her ordeal ahead of joining a major protest against the Iranian regime in Paris tomorrow.

“But I just pictured the 3,400 people in Camp Liberty [another camp for Iranian dissidents] also on hunger strike, who couldn’t even have sugar cubes or water to drink. Some of them nearly died.

“I was more worried about them than I was about myself.”

Miss Ranjbar, who fled Iran 20 years ago, is unable to work because of the damage to her health caused by the hunger strike.

Her condition deteriorated so much during the protest outside the US embassy, from September to December, that she was taken to hospital several times.

She said: “We were sleeping [outside the US embassy] at night for about a month and a half, but we didn’t feel well and the weather was cold, so after that every night we went home.

“I was crying, because I felt that the media doesn’t even care about us in this part of Europe and the US embassy doesn’t do anything.”

Despite the damage to her body, she said she would do it again at a moment’s notice if another “massacre” took place.

Miss Ranjbar and other members of the Iranian Women’s Association will join tens of thousands of protesters at the Paris rally. They continue to lobby human rights groups to back their cause.

Miss Ranjbar and fellow campaigner Zahra Dowlaty, 53, of Euston, have lost dozens of loved ones who were executed after daring to speak out against the Iranian government.

Ms Dowlaty’s husband was killed alongside Miss Ranjbar’s brother in 1988 and the two women were placed under house arrest.

They bought black-market passports and fled to the UK soon afterwards. Ms Dowlaty, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, said: “It doesn’t go from my head, even now. Whenever I see a crane, I automatically think someone is hanging there.”

The association believes the United States has a duty to secure Camp Liberty, also in Iraq, to prevent further deaths of Iranian dissidents under a pledge made during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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