Dissent can be a painful business (source: dpa)
WHILE WE IN THE West hear daily “lip service” about the wickedness of the current Iranian government towards its own people, most of it is spoken from the safety of government buildings or think tank ivory towers and is aimed at dropping bombs without any personal risk whatsoever to the pundits in question. In Würzburg, Bavaria, however, as war clouds darken over Teheran, Washington, and the European capitals, a group of Iranian refugees are taking the term literally and are actually sewing their lips shut to protest the situation in both their home nation and their country of refuge.
The ten men, former dissidents and political prisoners at risk of torture and death at home, have all made their way to Germany after remarkably adventurous escape stories. They have been residing in Würzburg’s dismal refugee barracks awaiting the processing of their cases since early this year. Disgusted at the isolated, squalid living conditions there, the Iranians launched their first hunger strike in March, ending it after seventeen days when the Bavarian authorities agreed to expedite their cases. They renewed it a few weeks later, halted it again, and decided to starve themselves for real starting in early June – “Occupy style,” in tents by the Vierröhrenbrunnen fountain in front of the picturesque city hall for all the good citizens and tourists in Würzburg to see.
The Iranian protest camp (source: dpa)
The men vowed to continue their hunger strike until all their demands were met. These refer not just to their own individual political asylum cases (six out of the ten have already been granted refugee status since March), but rather to the conditions for all asylum seekers in the state of Bavaria. They not only call for quicker processing of applications, but also demand that the prison camp-like “collective accommodation facilities” (Sammelunterkünfte) for refugees be closed and that compulsory residency in such facilities, as demanded by Bavarian law, be scrapped.
Würzburg's prison-like Sammelunterkunft for asylum-seekers on the edge of town (source: gustreik)
At the beginning of the month, two of the Iranian hunger strikers took the extreme step of literally sewing their own lips shut so that they can only absorb water through a straw. They vowed that every three days another of their group would follow suit until the Bavarians relented. So far, a total of seven have gone all the way. (One of them has since cut the threads.) And so they stand, lank and gloomy, before the city hall as the tourists walk by eating bratwurst and ice cream.
The Vierröhrenbrunnen fountain in Würzburg
At first the refugees attracted a great deal of sympathy. “It is appalling that political refugees see no other possibility of drawing attention to their situation,” said Miriam Werner, speaker of Bavaria’s Green Youth organization, last March. But not everyone is impressed by the latest escalation. Even the group’s closest allies, including Würzburg’s progressive Refugee Council, regard the hunger strike and lip-sewing as a counterproductive “blackmailing of the authorities.” The city is using the courts to suppress the public protest, pointing to the need to protect children from such an upsetting sight, so far without success.
"Imprisoned by uncertainty" - a German sympathizer at the Vierröhrenbrunnen (source: SD)
And so the struggle continues. In the meantime, at least three other Iranian refugees in Bavaria – in Würzburg, Bayreuth, and Augsburg – including one woman, have followed their countrymen’s lead and accordingly reached for needle and thread. I wish our own warmongers, who would be content to see these people’s families back in Iran end up in refugee camps of their own or dead on a slab, would do the same and realize that political repression, revolution, and war are not just pain-free campaign talking points but also a serious, painful business with real-world consequences. But until I see Richard Perle or Hillary Clinton threading a needle, I’m rooting for the Würzburg Ten.
You can visit the protest group's website HERE