ATHENS, Greece -- The 25 protesters camped in a makeshift tent in central Athens, started their fast Thursday. Seven of them have also sewn their mouths shut _ in a demonstration of defiance against Greek authorities which face growing international pressure to accept more asylum claims.
Last week, the United Nations' refugee agency bluntly criticized Greek authorities for neglecting legitimate claims and expressed concern over a severe deterioration in conditions at detention facilities for illegal migrants at the Greek-Turkish border.
The government has promised to overhaul asylum procedure but says it is overwhelmed by the influx of illegal immigrants crossing into the European Union from Turkey.
Protest organizers said Monday that the 25 hunger strikers are being joined by 19 more Iranian asylum seekers at the central Athens protest, all claiming to have been mistreated or harassed by Iranian authorities and remaining in Greece on short-term residence permits.
Mandana Daneshnia, a former newspaper reporter, said she fled the country after being harassed by authorities for writing about women's issues. She was one of the seven protesters who sewed their lips.
"Women have no rights in Iran. They can't wear what they want, do what they want, or even watch sporting events. Their testimony in court counts only for half of the one given by a man," Daneshnia said, writing a statement in Persian, as her husband and young daughter looked on.
"I have sewn my mouth to show that women in Iran are strong," said Daneshnia, 29, with short dyed-blonde hair and red-framed designer glasses, holding her lips with her hand when occasionally tempted to smile.
The protesters gathered during an afternoon downpour to talk to reporters under a tent made using garden shades and a large sheet of tarpaulin _ set up in front of Athens University, on ground where police are forbidden entry under a Greece's constitution guaranteeing for university asylum.
Other protesters dabbed their lips with rubbing alcohol. One of the hunger strikers, Davod Jani, collapsed during the news conference and received medical attention.
Human rights group Amnesty International says torture by authorities in Iran continues to be "common and committed with impunity."
Greek government officials have not commented on the protest.
The Associated Press