Social media images purported to be of an emaciated jailed Iranian physician who went on hunger strike in support of demonstrations against the compulsory wearing of the hijab have caused outrage and warnings that he risks death.
Farhad Meysami, 53, who has been in jail since 2018 for supporting women activists protesting against the headscarf policy, began his hunger strike on October 7 to protest government killings of demonstrators, his lawyer said.
But the Iranian judiciary denied the hunger strike claim and said the photos that have gone viral on social media were four years old when Meysami did go on hunger strike.
As evidence, the semi-official student-led news agency, Young Journalists Club, posted what it said was Meysami's latest photo, in which he does not look emaciated and is seen sitting on the floor of his prison cell with a bag of what looks like chips next to him.
Reuters was unable to confirm when the pictures were taken.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide protests following the death of Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on September 16 in police custody, posing one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
Amini was arrested by morality police for wearing the hijab inappropriately.
After Amini's death in custody, women have played a prominent role in the protests, many of them waving or burning their headscarves.
Rights groups said more than 500 protesters have been killed and about 20,000 have been arrested. At least four people have been hanged, according to the Iranian judiciary.
“My client Farhad Meysami’s life is in danger,” tweeted lawyer Mohammad Moghimi. “He went on hunger strike to protest the recent government killings in the streets.”
He said Meysami had lost 52kg.
Images of Meysami show him curled up on what looks like a hospital bed, and another standing, his ribs protruding.
“Shocking images of Dr Farhad Meysami, a brave advocate for women's rights who has been on hunger strike in prison,” tweeted Robert Malley, Washington's special envoy for Iran.
“Iran's regime has unjustly denied him and thousands of other political prisoners their rights and their freedom. Now it unjustly threatens his life,” he said.
In a letter published by BBC's Persian Service, Meysami made three demands: an end to executions, the release of political-civil prisoners and an end to “forced-hijab harassment”.
“I will continue my impossible mission in the hope that it may become possible later on with a collective effort,” he wrote.
On Thursday, Human Rights Activists News Agency reported that Iranian film director Jafar Panahi had started a hunger strike in prison to protest against authorities' refusal to release him temporarily on bail pending a retrial.
Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010 amid a stepped-up crackdown on dissent.