Fifty-five years ago, I was part of a hunger strike in apartheid South Africa, writes Beverley Naidoo

The news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe intends to go on hunger strike, to protest against denial of medical care in her Iranian prison, is heart-rending (Report, 4 January).It’s a desperate decision but one that may cause permanent, if not fatal, self-harm. Fifty-five years ago, I was part of a hunger strike in the segregated white women’s section of Pretoria Central Prison in apartheid South Africa, protesting against detention without trial and calling for “charge or release”. My hunger strike lasted only 10 days before I feared my weakened state might affect me mentally during interrogation. It was probably the near-fatal condition of one of us – a mother with children – that forced the apartheid authorities, seven weeks later, to release a couple of us and charge the rest. They didn’t want a hunger-strike death plastered across the world’s press.

Nazanin already has her interrogation behind her, as well as an unfair trial with limited access to legal representation. She must be aware of Trump tearing up US international commitments, including the Iran nuclear deal. She must fear a world in which words, treaties and trust are thrown to the winds. She must fear a Britain in which Brexit dominates. Having taken the decision to go on hunger strike, I fear the depths of her desperation. If we all signed Amnesty International UK’s petition calling for her release, might that at least give her some support – and hope?
Beverley Naidoo

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