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Iran: Jailed Journalist Wins Golden Pen Of Freedom Award

  • Golnaz Esfandiari --> Akbar Ganji in May (epa) Iranian investigative journalist Akbar Ganji has been awarded the 2006 Golden Pen of Freedom. That's the annual press freedom prize of the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, which represents 18,000 newspapers around the world. Ganji has been jailed for the past five years in Iran because of his critical articles and investigations into the murders of political dissidents and intellectuals.

Prague, 15 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The World Association of Newspapers says Akbar Ganji's fight for freedom of expression in Iran is being "watched around the globe."

And it calls Ganji's resistance to repression and his refusal to be silenced "an inspiration to journalists everywhere."
"Even if I have to spend the rest of my life in prison, I will not change my views."

Larry Killman is the director of communications for the World Association of Newspapers. "He is a very courageous journalist that refuses to be silenced despite his imprisonment," Killman said. "Every time he goes on hunger strikes to make his point, every time he is released from prison to hospital, he continues to speak out at great personal risk. And the World Association of Newspapers felt a journalist of this caliber should be honored for his bravery, and that's why he received the Golden Pen of Freedom."

Ganji's wife, Massoumeh Shafii, tells RFE/RL that the award proves that her husband's work is recognized and appreciated despite efforts by the authorities in Iran to silence him.

Shafii says Ganji is still unaware that he has won the Golden Pen award. "If the news [about the award] is published in our newspapers, then Ganji will probably find out about that, unless those newspapers are not given to him. [The award] will improve his morale and make him more resilient. It shows that others outside have not forgotten him."

Ganji -- Iran's most prominent journalist -- was sentenced to six years in prison in 2001 on several charges, including threatening Iran's national security and insulting the country's leaders.

He is best known for having implicated several Iranian officials -- including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former Intelligence Minister Ali Falahian -- in the killing of four intellectuals and political dissidents in 1998.

Ganji has also published a two-part book from prison in which he challenges the authority of Iran's supreme leader and says that real democracy cannot be achieved under the country's current system.

In May, after a previous hunger strike, Ganji was granted prison leave for medical treatment. During his temporary release, he said that his time in prison had made him even more determined to push for democratic change in Iran. He also called for a boycott of the 17 June presidential election.

Upon return to prison, Ganji resumed his hunger strike for two months. He reportedly lost 25 kilograms and was hospitalized.

He ended his hunger strike on 3 September. But, according to his wife, his health remains poor. "His physical conditions is not good, but he is in excellent spirits. He faces tight food and medication restrictions, and this increases our concern," she said. "Today, it has been more than 70 days that Ganji has been in solitary confinement and I have been given permission to visit him only twice. Ganji has not seen his children for more than 80 days."

Shafii says Ganji has been under pressure while in jail to renounce his writings and opinions. In May, however, Ganji said that "even if I have to spend the rest of my life in prison, I will not change my views."

The World Association of Newspapers has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961 to journalists who defend and promote press freedom. Past winners include Ruslan Sharipov from Uzbekistan and Mahjoub Mohamed Salih of Sudan.

Ganji is the second Iranian journalist to be awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom. In 1999, Faraj Sarkuhi received the award. He is the former editor of "Adineh" magazine who now lives in exile in Germany.
RFE/RL Iran Report

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She can be reached at