Hunger Strike in Vatican, Paris in Support for Imam Khomeini

Translated by M.B. Khoshnevisan


In protest against the restrictions imposed on the Imam by the Iraqi Ba’athist regime, [1356 (1976)], the Islamic associations of the students in Europe took several actions. Among these activities, two hunger strikes were organized in the Vatican and Saint Mary's Church in Paris. Although we knew that they do not allow political activities in the Vatican, it was planned in such a way that the guys would enter there dispersedly and when the doors were closed and they wanted to evacuate the crowd, they would gather together, raise placards and announce a sit-in. It was natural that the police would enter the scene to drive the people out, so as soon as they gathered, placards and statements were supposed to be ready to announce their political goals and demands. Of course, we had foreseen that if for any reason the program was not implemented in the Vatican, we would do it somewhere else. As we expected, when the people gathered, the Vatican police - who were French special guards at that time - started beating them, but the guys of the Islamic association informed their statements and demands to the people by shouting and protesting. This sit-in had a lot of coverage in the press, and in fact, the goal we expected was achieved in the first few hours. The point taken for this work was suitable in terms of the domestic political issues of Italy, because there was sensitiveness against the Vatican. Especially the left parties of Italy strengthened this case that some Muslims sought refuge in the center of Catholics to support their intellectual and cultural leader - we also emphasized this point of seeking refuge - and they expect the leader of the world's Christians to support them, then not only no necessary support is provided, but the French police stationed in the Vatican have also brutally beaten them. The supports had a positive effect. The demands of the strikers included both temporary and long-term demands. The temporary request was to lift the ban on the Imam in Iraq. Of course, we knew that this request was not practical, but if we insisted on it, several international organizations would support us after two or three days. It is usually customary for international human rights organizations to mediate to stop the hunger strike, we try to raise your demands in our circles and use our facilities to voice your protest. The sit-in lasted for about three days; the hunger strike of course did not include drinking water. The first group that referred was the Organization of Italian Protestants who asked us to end the hunger strike and said that they would take responsibility for continuing the struggle until our demands are met. This is usually a political gesture. We said that our people will not stop their hunger strike anytime soon. Most of them are still active. We continue the strike for two or three more days. On the fourth day, two or three other organizations stood up for support and we took the guys from the church to a place where the Protestant organization had provided with a doctor, medicine, and treatment facilities. This action, which was carried out by a student religious organization and not by some superstitious people unfamiliar with the requirements of the time, was interesting in that it could not be stigmatized as reactionary, backward, and superstitious. Most of the strikers were distinguished students of prominent universities in Europe, and their protest and persistence to the point of risking their lives fortunately prepared the ground for Imam in European public opinion, so that two or three weeks later, another hunger strike was prepared in Paris. From the very beginning, this action was part of our plan that if we did not reach a result due to the strike in Italy and the ban on Imam was not lifted, we would organize this action in Paris on a wider scale and by mobilizing more forces from all subordinate units in Europe and America.

At the same time, we heard that some friends from the Combatant Clergy abroad - headed by Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Montazeri - have gathered in Paris. We said that now that they have come, it is good that we do the hunger strike program together. For two reasons: one was that with the previous hunger strike in the Vatican, the conditions for exploitation were already prepared, and the total positive effects of the propaganda of that movement were transferred to Paris and France. Second, the Imam's advice on the unity of clergies and students for many years was implemented with a joint political movement and became a symbol.

The original plan was accepted, but immediately some controversial issues arose, including Mr. Mohammad Montazeri had brought a list of political prisoners that was among the demands of the strikers for their freedom, among which was the name of Seyed Mehdi Hashemi. We believed not to raise this issue because we started the hunger strike to remove the restriction from the Imam, and turning the issue towards the release of political prisoners in Iran will reduce the pressure we want to put on the Iraqi government. But Mr. Montazeri still insisted on it. We said that since we have informed the Imam about the set of activities and he is aware of the matter, therefore we should make more coordination with Najaf. I called Mr. Doa'ei, after talking with the imam, he conveyed the matter to us in such a way that we felt that the imam did not want Mehdi Hashemi's name to be on the list. We said that although we are not willing, but if they insist on their demand, we will have to divide the work or we will abandon the joint strike and implement our program elsewhere, of course we will help them. Of course, it was certain that if we did the work together, it would get more credit, but if two organizations gave two different statements, it would be distasteful. Again, Mr. Doa'ei said that the imam says that you can coordinate with each other and solve the problem and that you have the right not to accept the name of Seyed Mahdi Hashemi. However, there is no problem in requesting the release of the rest of the prisoners whose names are listed, including Ayatollah Taleghani, Ayatollah Montazeri, Ezzatollah Sahabi, Lotfollah Maysami, who were 12 in total. Anyway, because Mr. Mohammad Montazeri and his friends insisted, we agreed that the unity would be the location of the hunger strike, which was considered Saint Mary's Church in Paris. But we separated our daily statements, which contained the demands and goals of the hunger strike, and reported the events of the day and analyzed and interpreted their reflection in the press. Of course, we failed to get a message from the Imam for this hunger strike. The hunger strike started on the evening of October 1, 1977/9 Mehr 1356 and continued for a week. Fortunately, the reflection of this movement in Iran and in foreign media was very good. During this time, representatives of international human rights organizations came and interviewed. Other organizations and political figures also announced their support and like the previous hunger strike, announced that you stop the hunger strike and we would pursue your demands and goals. We also ended the strike with a press conference. Against our will, two separate roundtables were held. On behalf of the combatant clergy, Mohammad Montazeri, Mr. Gharazi, and another friend participated in the round table, although most of the men at that time had nicknames, and later we found out what their real names were.

Source: Tabatabaee, Sadeq, Social-Political Memoirs of Sadeq Tabatabaee, V. 1. Student Movement, Tehran, Orouj Publications, 1387 (2008), pp. 144-14.


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