If you have been following the news in Iran, you may have come across the harrowing picture of a man with a shaved head, facing the camera with a few books in his hands. We see his upper body in the photo, naked and emaciated, his ribs sticking out. His name is Dr. Farhad Meysami. For the past four years, he has been imprisoned in Iran without a day of leave, and recently, he went on hunger strike with the following demands: an end to the execution of protestors, the release of six prisoners of conscience, and an end to harassments with regard to compulsory hijab. He has lost 52 kilograms (114 pounds) since the start of his hunger strike, prompting other Iranian prisoners and concerned international public figures to implore him to end his hunger strike, fearing for his life.
From Med School to Andisheh-Sazan Publishing House
Born on November 17th, 1969, the young Farhad Meysami was an exceptional student and one of the select few who are able to study medicine at the venerable and prestigious Tehran University. Meysami’s extraordinarily high score on the nation-wide standardized test that determines students’ eligibility to enter universities in Iran earned him a spot in the selective program. Yet, after receiving his medical degree, he didn’t complete his specialty of pathology and instead, founded the Andisheh-Sazan cultural institute and publishing company.
Through Andisheh-Sazan, Meysami dedicated his time to producing books aimed at helping students prepare for the university entrance examinations, as well as books on poetry and music. Every standardized test prep book included a personal introduction written by Meysami himself, also editor-in-chief, underlining the importance of reading literature and studying the humanities in order to become more human every day; which, he wrote, is the end goal of all human beings. The back cover of each book encouraged the reader to plant a tree.
Dedication to Non-Violent Resistance
Meysami closed the institute at the height of its success, lamenting the focus that the youth had on their standardized test scores and the fact that the institute’s well-known books were contributing to this anxiety. This realization led him to switch his focus towards more meaningful cultural work.
He became a teacher, translator, and civil rights activist, promoting non-violent resistance. In 2018, Meysami was arrested in his home library on the charge of protesting the compulsory hijab and detained in Tehran’s Evin Prison. About a year later, following his civil disobedience in prison in protest of inhumane conditions, he was illegally transferred to a prison an hour outside of Tehran reserved for violent criminals. He’s been kept in that prison ever since, where he is currently on hunger strike.
Since the image of his emaciated body reverberated across social media, countless women’s and civil rights activists, journalists, and other prisoners of conscience in Iran have published statements in support of Meysami and have asked him to end his hunger strike. Niloufar Hamedi, the imprisoned journalist who broke the story of Zhina Mahsa Amini’s death, and Bahareh Hedayat, the imprisoned political activist, are among those who have written open letters to Meysami in solidarity while expressing concern for his well-being. Hamedi and Hedayat are two of the six prisoners of conscience whose release Meysami is demanding through his hunger strike.