Around 100 Iranians, many of them hunger strikers from outside the American Embassy, attended a service at Farm Street Jesuit Church in central London last weekend as part of their campaign to secure the release of detainees from Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
The group, which included their British supporters and several people in wheelchairs who have been weakened through lack of food, was welcomed by the parish priest of Farm Street Church, Father William Pearsall SJ.
The Iranians had started their round the clock, 24 hour sit-in protest outside the US Embassy on 28 July, the day the Iraqi Security forces attacked Camp Ashraf, the place of residence for 3,400 members of Iran's major opposition, the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI). The attack on the unarmed civilians resulted in 11 deaths, 500 people wounded and 36 being abducted and tortured. The hunger strikers are demanding the immediate return of the 36 kidnapped Ashraf residents, the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Camp Ashraf, and UN protection.
Father Pearsall opened the service by praying for the safe return of the abducted, for the wounded and for the health of more than 1,000 hunger strikers in Ashraf and all over the world, including London. After further addresses and prayers in both English and Persian (Farsi), Lady Slynn of Hadley (a renowned campaigner for the people of Iran) thanked Father William for his kind help and support and described the service as “very moving”. The Iranians then lit 36 candles, each for one of the abducted people.
At the end of the service, Fr Pearsall promised to contact the US embassy in order to meet with the US chargé d’affaires and bring the situation and especially the condition of 36 abducted to his attention.
“It is outrageous that despite the Iraqi Court verdict for immediate release of 36 abducted, the Iraqi government has decided to go above their own law, completely ignoring the verdict and continue keeping the 36 imprisoned,”he said.
According to Laila Jazayeri, the Director of the Christian Committee in Support of Ashraf, the lives of the 36 are now even more endangered: the Iranian regime has asked for them to be sent to Iran, or they could be executed.
“A large number of clergy and churches from different denominations have given us their support,” she said.
“A petition addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury has been circulated amongst all churches and various clergy have signed it. The petition is calling on the Dr Williams to raise his voice in support of the victims and to ask President Obama to intervene and do what is expected from the US government. In fact, the US forces are the main responsible force that should have been protecting Ashraf residents.”