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Iran: Concern Grows Over Fate Of Jailed Journalist

Akbar Ganji (file photo) Iran's most prominent jailed investigative journalist, Akbar Ganji, has been jailed for the last five years because of his critical articles and his investigation into the murders of political dissidents and intellectuals -- murders in which, he says, top Iranian officials were involved. Now, Ganji’s wife says that he has been on hunger strike for a month as he demands to be released unconditionally from prison. On 12 July, a gathering is due to take place in Tehran in his support.

PRAGUE, 12 July 2005 (RFE/RL) Despite his poor health, Iran’s top journalist Akbar Ganji is determined to continue his hunger strike until his unconditional freedom.

Ganji’s wife Massoumeh Shafii was able to visit him on 11 July. She told RFE/RL that he believes a hunger strike is the only way to secure his freedom.

She also says Ganji has lost more than 20 kilograms as a result of his hunger strike, but that his morale is good.

“He is still on a hunger strike. His weight is 55 kilos now. He has lost a lot of weight during his hunger strike, he’s without any force, the color of his face is yellow, and he tries very hard to speak normally," Shafii said. "His physical condition is not good, but he is in excellent spirits.”

The journalist is reported to be subsisting on water and sugar cubes.

Ganji is known for his criticism of the Iranian establishment. He has said that his five years in jail, including several months in solitary confinement, has made his views even more radical.

In his two-part book titled “Manifesto Of Republicanism,” Ganji has criticized the authority of Iran’s Supreme Leader and said that under the country’s current governmental system real democracy cannot be achieved.

Ganji was temporarily released from jail at the end of May on medical grounds. He suffers from asthma and back pain. Prior to his temporary release, he had also been on a hunger strike to protest his detention conditions.

Several days after his release, he spoke with Radio Farda and called for a boycott election of the 17 June Iranian presidential election.

"Those who are theoretically and practically committed to Iran's constitution, if they go after reforming the current ruling establishment, maybe they are taking the right way," Ganji said at the time. "But if someone's main concern is democracy and establishing a democratic regime that is bound to human rights, then that person would not be willing to reform the establishment; his main issue would be how to move from a un-democratic regime to a democratic regime. And I've written in the first and second 'Manifesto' that under the current regime I have no hope for any reform leading to a transition toward a democratic system."

On 11 June, shortly after making this statement, Ganji was returned to prison.

Ganji was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2001 on charges ranging from harming Iran's national security to spreading lies against the country’s leaders. His sentence was later reduced to six years on appeal.

Ganji’s wife told RFE/RL that Iranian officials have told him that unless he changes his views, he will not be released even after his jail term is over.

“Mr. Ganji says, ‘Even after the few months left of my jail term would be over, [the authorities ] will not free me because they have said it to me very clearly,’" Shafii said. "Even Trade Minister Mr. Shariatmadari -- who visited Ganji in jail two years ago -- told him: ‘the position of the establishment is that you should stay in jail until you [retract] what you have written in the 'Manifesto.' You have to say that you were wrong.’ [Therefore] Ganji considers his unconditional release as the only solution.”

In a recent open letter written from jail and published on several websites, Ganji said he will not take back his words and he will not show remorse.

There have been widespread calls for Ganji’s release, including from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi. In a June 30 interview with Radio Farda, Ebadi expressed concern over Ganji’s health.

"Once more I would like to bring the worrying condition of Akbar human rights groups," Ebadi said. "If no immediate action is taken he could [die]. I ask judiciary officials and the Iranian and international

The EU, the United States, and several human rights groups have also called on Iran’s judiciary to free Ganji.

Ganji’s wife says she has written to many humanitarian organizations about his husband’s condition.

“We are worried and there is nothing we can do," Shafii said. "We are just witnessing how Akbar Ganji is fading out. We’ve tried all the [channels] inside Iran but unfortunately there haven’t been any results. We’ve been also following the case outside Iran, we’ve been sending letters to the European parliament, [EU foreign and security policy chief] Javier Solana, to the UN, to [UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan. We’ve sent letters to all places we could and [brought their attention] to Mr. Ganji’s case. There is international pressure but it’s not clear when the Iranian officials will respond.”
Today, a group of human rights activists, students and families of political prisoners have announced they will gather in front of Tehran’s university to express their concern over Ganji’s “critical” condition and to protest against the violation of his rights.

They say “if something unpleasant happens to Ganji, Iran's rulers will be held responsible.”