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Iran: U.S. Calls For Release Of Ailing, Imprisoned Journalist

Akbar Ganji has been an outspoken critic of the government (epa) The U.S. State Department says there are new indications that the health of imprisoned Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji is at serious risk. The department issued a statement yesterday highlighting concerns about Ganji's treatment and calling for his immediate release. It comes as Canada -- still concerned about the death of a Canadian-Iranian journalist in prison -- prepares to introduce a resolution at the United Nations drawing attention to Iranian human rights problems.

Washington, 4 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. officials are seeking to place new attention on the case of Akbar Ganji, who has been in prison since 2000.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington has received reports in the past week consistent with charges by Ganji's wife that Iranian authorities are continuing to beat Ganji.

"Mr. Ganji has spent more than five years in prison due to his peaceful advocacy for free speech and democracy. His imprisonment and any inhumane treatment are serious violations of fundamental human rights. The United States calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Akbar Ganji as well as his immediate access to medical assistance and legal representation," McCormack said.

Rights watchdogs point to the case of Ganji as an example of ongoing abuses.

Ganji was jailed after writing a series of articles linking senior officials to the murder of political dissidents.

McCormack called for continued international pressure on Iran to release all political prisoners.

Iran's hard-line judiciary acknowledged in a report in July that human rights abuses, including torture, have taken place in prisons. But judiciary officials said meaningful reforms have now been made and problems eliminated.

Rights watchdogs point to the case of Ganji as an example of ongoing abuses.

The Iranian government also continues to face pressure from Canada related to the case of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who died in 2003 after being detained in front of Tehran's Evin prison. According to a government investigation she was struck on the head during interrogation.

Canada has sought a more thorough probe of her death and last year sponsored a resolution in the UN General Assembly censuring Iran's rights record. On 2 November, Canada introduced a resolution in the assembly's Human Rights Committee expressing concern about Iran's record. Canada will formally introduce the measure on 8 November.

Iran has signaled it will respond by raising its own concerns about Canada's rights record in the committee.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said yesterday it still has unanswered questions about the role of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy. Spokesman McCormack said Washington is awaiting "definitive" statements from the Iranian government in response to charges of some former hostages that Ahmadinejad played a part in their captivity.

"Certainly we have not forgotten the events of that date and the subsequent 444 days. The act of taking that embassy was a criminal act and certainly we think it is incumbent upon President Ahmadinejad and the Iranian government to answer these unanswered questions," McCormack said.

Today is the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by militant Islamic students.