Northwestern students, faculty, and alumni are among the more than 300 volunteers participating in a 12-day staggered hunger strike to support Roxana Saberi, a Medill alumna who is currently detained in Iran. Saberi herself was recently hospitalized after a two-week hunger strike in protest of her imprisonment.
“We will fast so she doesn’t have to,” said Medill senior Shari Weiss, who fasted on Monday. “It’s a gesture of solidarity to draw further attention to the cause.” Weiss was one of the organizers of a rally on April 26 to support Saberi. “Anyone of any knowledge of the human body knows that a strike is detrimental to your health,” Weiss said. “We don’t want her to do it.”
Some have expressed their doubts about the effectiveness of a hunger strike. “I think it’s great how the Medill and Northwestern community have rallied together, but I don’t think it will have its desired effect” said Lindsay Abbassian, a Medill freshman. Abbassian said she felt the strike wouldn’t do much to influence an institution like the Iranian government.
But Jack Doppelt, a Medill professor who went hungry on Sunday for Saberi, said the strike’s effectiveness should be measured by more than just its direct impact on Iranian policy.
He offered three ways to gauge the success of the strike: First, whether the personal and emotional impact of the strike allows participants to feel actively involved and like they’re “not looking the other way.” Second, the strike’s effectiveness depends on whether news of the strike and show of support can reach Saberi in Iran and boost her morale. “I think that’s huge, for someone in prison to know that people have not forgotten about them,” Doppelt said. The last, and most important measurement of success is whether the strike can ultimately lead to Saberi’s release — and Doppelt remains optimistic.
Doppelt, who has kept in touch with Saberi since having her at Medill, joined the hunger strike after speaking with Alexis Grant, Medill ’05, who is managing the Twitter campaign to free Saberi. Journalists around the country have also decided to fast, including members of Reporters Without Borders, some of whom went on strike in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York on Sunday.
Saberi, jailed by Iran for allegedly spying for the United States, was hospitalized early Monday after refusing to drink water 12 days into her hunger strike. She was released from the prison clinic the same day. The strike has left Roxana weak and thin, and her father reported last week that she had lost about 10 pounds already. An appeals court in Iran will review Saberi’s case next week.
“It speaks volumes that nearly 300 people have signed up to participate, and it shows how far-reaching the importance of the cause is, with the long term goal of seeing her be released and get the treatment she deserves,” Weiss said.
Updated 11:54 p.m: This story has been updated to fix some grammatical issues. Thanks to commenter Brian Rosenthal for the correction.