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Iran's leading dissident's life in danger

14 July 2005

Iran's most prominent jailed dissident, journalist Akbar Ganji has now been on hunger strike for more than month in Tehran's Evin prison, and his life is in danger. Ganji's lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2003, expressed grave concerns over his state of health and urged people around the world to publicize his plight and call for his release.

"Ganji is a brave journalist and all of us should support him," said Ebadi, speaking trough an interpreter at a press conference at the Foreign Press Association in London on July 12.

Ganji, one of the Iranian regime's most vocal critics, was arrested in May 2000 and sentenced in 2001 to six years in prison over articles he wrote linking government officials –

including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian –

to the murder of several Iranian dissidents and intellectuals. He has also been accused of taking part in a conference in Berlin about reform in Iran, which the regime deemed "anti-Islamic."

After being granted a short leave on medical grounds, Ganji was re-imprisoned on June 11. He has been on hunger strike ever since –

only drinking water with a bit of sugar –

and has lost more than 40 pounds during the past month, Ebadi said.

Ganji, who suffers from rheumatic pain and serious chronic asthma made worse by prison conditions, went on hunger strike to protest being denied medical treatment outside prison, which his doctors have recommended in writing.

Ebadi said Ganji launched his hunger strike only after having exhausted all other legal avenues. As a political prisoner, he is also being denied many privileges afforded to other inmates, such as phone calls, family leave and meeting with his lawyer in private.

In a new twist, the judiciary has recently declared hunger strike a criminal offence, Ebadi added.

The leading journalist, who worked for the reformist daily paper Sobh–e–Emrooz, has already spent five years and three months in jail, making him the journalist imprisoned for the longest period in Iran, according to Reporters Without Borders, which has taken on his case. Other individuals and organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PEN are also campaigning for his release.

But time is pressing.

Ganji is now very weak and ill, and Ebadi said she fears for his life. Sadly, she added, he is not the only political prisoner in Iran's jails. "Unfortunately, a large number of our young people – political activists, journalists and intellectuals – are in prison now and you may not have heard their names.

"I am hoping for the release of all political prisoners in Iran. By freeing political prisoners, our government will take an important step toward national reconciliation and unity, so that the Iranian family won't be torn apart."

Veronique Mistiaen

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