Iran Pressed to Release Journalist

Eight Nobel laureates called for the release of Akbar Ganji, an investigative reporter critical of the Tehran government who is on a hunger strike.
Eight Nobel laureates called for the release of Akbar Ganji, an investigative reporter critical of the Tehran government who is on a hunger strike. (By Hasan Sarbakhshian -- Associated Press)
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 5, 2005

Iran is under growing international pressure to free Akbar Ganji, a leading investigative journalist who is on the 55th day of a hunger strike in prison. Ganji is in seriously declining health after losing more than 50 pounds, according to family accounts and human rights groups.

Eight Nobel laureates from three continents appealed to the Iranian government yesterday for Ganji's immediate and unconditional release. Several human rights groups have called on Tehran to act because of reports from the family that he is lapsing into unconsciousness more frequently.

"If the international community does not react, Ganji is going to die," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement yesterday.

The White House issued a statement last month expressing President Bush's outrage at Ganji's imprisonment and the government's refusal to allow him legal representation and family access. "The president calls on all supporters of human rights and freedom and the United Nations to take up Ganji's case and the overall human rights situation in Iran," the statement said. The State Department issued four statements last month on the Ganji case.

Ganji wrote exposés on the involvement of high-ranking Iranian officials in the killings of intellectuals and dissidents in the 1990s. He also investigated corruption by senior members of the government and their families.

The journalist was imprisoned in 2000 on charges of "acting against national security" for participating in an international conference in Berlin. He has served most of his six-year term, but rights groups now fear that the Iranian judiciary may prolong his imprisonment by bringing new charges.

His attacks on Iran's government have not ceased during his imprisonment. In a June 29 letter, 19 days after he began the hunger strike, Ganji wrote, "The liars say they have no political prisoners," adding that he and hundreds of others are jailed "solely because we differ from what is permitted." The letter reached rights groups and was posted on Iranian Web sites.

Ganji also charged that the government was behind an attempt by another inmate to kill him. "If punishment is to force me [to] show remorse for my manifests, you will not achieve your objective," he vowed. Should he die, Ganji said, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's conservative supreme leader, would be "directly responsible."

The journalist's weight is down to around 110 pounds, said human rights groups that monitor his condition. "His health is really weak. We are very worried about the danger of his death. . . . His lawyers do not have the right to visit him," said Lucie Morillon, Washington representative of Reporters Without Borders.

Ganji was hospitalized last month. Doctors tried to feed him intravenously, but he pulled out the feeding tubes, his family has told human rights groups.

In another sign of a human rights crackdown in Iran, the government on July 30 detained defense lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, who has been involved in Ganji's case as well as those of other detainees, human rights groups say. Along with Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, Soltani is a founder of the Center for Advocates of Human Rights.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company