THE Archbishop of Canterbury has written to the United States Ambassador in London to add his voice to protests outside the US embassy.
Iranian and British Iranian protesters are on hunger strike, in an effort to persuade the US to protect their relatives and friends in Camp Ashraf, a “protected persons” camp in Iraq, after they were attacked by the Iraq army in July (News, 14, 21 August).
A spokeswoman confirmed the sending of the letter on Wednesday. “The Archbishop takes the pastoral care of the families involved in the protest very seriously. He is also concerned for the well-being of Iranians and Iranian Christians living in England.” A letter has also been sent to Canon Mark Oakley, Priest-in-Charge of Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair, where the protesters have attended prayer services on Saturdays during their protest.
Canon Oakley said on Wednesday that he had not yet received the letter. The beds lined up outside the embassy looked like a “morgue”, he said. One hunger striker had suffered a heart attack. “When the hunger strikers get really sick, they are taken off by ambulance and given fluids.”
The protest has so far had little effect. “It feels as if we are where we were,” Canon Oakley said. “The human-rights issue is acknowledged and talked about by some people, but not by others.”
A spokesman for the US Embassy said that it had not yet received Dr Williams’s letter. Camp Ashraf was a sovereign matter for the government of Iraq. The US had received written assurances that the residents would be treated humanely, and not forcibly transferred to a country where they would be persecuted, he said.
The director of the Association of Anglo-Iranian Women in the UK, Leila Jazayeri, rejected the US assurances. She said that she was disappointed with the response from Lambeth Palace. “I wanted to ask the Archbishop to raise his voice, but his assistant is blocking us from meeting him.”
On Wednesday, many of the hunger strikers spoke of their determination to continue their protest until the US agreed to provide temporary protection to the 3000 residents of the camp. They feared that the Iraqi army was preparing a further attack on the camp.
At various times, they said, food and water had been denied the camp, and those injured in the July attack had been denied immediate medical care, leading to further deaths. They said that the attack had been requested by Iran, which blamed those in the camp for helping to fuel protests after the disputed election in Iran in June.
Mahmoud Fasihpour, aged 57, said that he had been on hunger strike for 44 days. “I will stay on hunger strike unless the 36 people who were abducted from the camp are freed immediately, the Iraqi forces get out of Ashraf, and a UN monitoring team is sent in,” he said. “No one from the embassy has talked to us.”