Hunger striker Vahid Beheshti’s hopes raised after meeting over Iran

Activist held talks with Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia to discuss his protest

Hunger strikers Vahid Beheshti is now in a wheelchair. Victoria Pertusa/ The National
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A hunger striker who says he is prepared to die in his attempt to pressure the UK to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation has said his hopes were raised after a “warm” meeting with a government minister.

Vahid Beheshti, 45, is no longer able to walk after surviving for 62 days on a diet of water, coffee and a handful of sugar cubes.

On Tuesday, he was invited to the Foreign Office in central London, outside which he is camped, to speak to Tariq Ahmad, Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, about his protest.

Mr Beheshti was wheeled out of the building to chants of “UK, put them on the list, IRGC terrorists” by supporters after the meeting.

He told The National Mr Ahmad had said he wanted to work together on the issue, and urged him to end his protest, a request Mr Beheshti refused.

“He was really warm, really welcoming,” said Mr Beheshti, adding that he felt like his body had begun to “eat his muscles” and has developed pain around the bones, joints, “everywhere”.

“[Lord Ahmad] was fasting today and he said 'I understand your state'. And he accepted everything that I said — the terrorist activities of the IRGC, what they have done.”

He said Mr Ahmad had told him the government was working on the issue, as well as pointing out that it imposed sanctions on four IRGC commanders on Monday.

“I said 'sanctions are not effective'. These people won’t even leave Iran, so they laugh at this when we put sanctions on them. He said ‘I would really like to work with you constantly.'

Hunger striker Vahid Beheshti’s hopes raised after meeting over Iran

Hunger striker Vahid Beheshti’s hopes raised after meeting over Iran

“I said 'I am here. We can work together.' He said ‘not in this state'.

“I said 'I have to unfortunately tell you I am going to carry on till we get this done for our safety and security here. For our British values here. For our freedom and democracy here.'

He said 'I am going to take your message to the PM and Foreign Minister. I am going to try my best to work on this issue' and I said 'yes, let’s work together'.”

Asked whether he felt hopeful, he replied: “It was very warm, very welcoming. Now they understand I am serious and I am not going to give up.

“I feel it is another achievement after 62 days. We got another achievement. I think they really get it that this is a very serious issue for many of us.

“I am not going anywhere, there is no exit plan. I will wait until we get this done.”

Born and raised in Iran, the activist and journalist was twice arrested by the IRGC before fleeing to Britain 24 years ago.

The British-Iranian citizen decided to go on hunger strike after he witnessed the Iranian regime’s attempts to silence freedom of speech in the UK.

Mr Beheshti said he felt he was becoming weaker, but vowed to press ahead with his protest.

“I know that is the price for our safety and security," he added. "For me, for you, for all of us. We shouldn’t allow terrorists to come here and force us to shut down TV stations and censor ourselves. They take the values from us."

Iran has plotted to abduct or kill at least 10 British citizens or people based in the UK, Britain’s domestic spy chief said last year.

Iran International, a television station that broadcasts stories critical of the regime, was forced to temporarily close its London office this year after journalists were threatened by the IRGC.

Speaking outside the Foreign Office on Tuesday, Donya, a supporter of Mr Beheshti’s and a member of the Be Iran’s Voice group, said it had recently launched a campaign to collect signatures in support of the cause to proscribe the IRGC, which now has more than 1,700 signatures.

She told The National: “We got a response last week from the Home Office and not even from [Home Secretary] Suella Braverman herself, just a Home Office representative.

“It was an extremely disappointing letter, because despite Vahid Beheshti being mentioned throughout the open letter, the Home Office representative did not once mention Vahid Beheshti in that response at all. And he completely ignored his campaign.

“We are here, we are protesting, we are risking our lives. And we know this is a valid threat because the Iran International TV channel only three months ago had to leave London to go to Washington because MI5 couldn’t deal with the severity of death threats against the journalists here.

“My parents emigrated here so we could be safe. And we are not.”

Updated: April 25, 2023, 6:29 PM