CPJ Condemns New Jail Term for Iranian Journalist Ganji

New York, July 16–CPJ strongly condemns the six-year prison sentence issued to imprisoned Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji today and reiterates calls for the release of all jailed journalists in Iran.

Ganji was a popular investigative journalist whose reporting on the murders of Iranian intellectuals and dissidents in 1998 implicated several top government officials. Today he was sentenced to six years in jail on charges of collecting confidential information that harms national security and spreading propaganda against the Islamic system, the state news agency IRNA reported.
The charges stemmed from Ganji’s participation in a controversial April 2000 conference in Berlin on the future of the Iranian reform movement. Ganji was arrested when he returned to Iran on April 22, 2000 and charged with Press Law violations, based on his published work. He was also charged with threatening national security and spreading propaganda against the Islamic regime, based on his public remarks during the Berlin conference.

In January 2001, the Revolutionary Court sentenced Ganji to 10 years in prison, followed by five years of internal exile. In May, an appellate court reduced Ganji’s punishment to six months in prison (he had already served more than a year). The Iranian Justice Department then appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the appellate court had committed errors in reaching its decision to commute the original 10-year sentence, IRNA reported.

The Supreme Court overturned the appellate court’s decision and referred the case to a different appeals court. That court issued today’s verdict. According to IRNA, the ruling was “definitive,” meaning that it cannot be appealed.

Cooper: Release all jailed journalists at once
“This judgment clearly shows that certain powers in Iran are intent on keeping Ganji and his colleagues behind bars at all costs,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Their continued imprisonment flies in the face of justice as well as international press freedom norms. They should be released immediately.”

According to CPJ research, at least five journalists are currently jailed in Iran because of their work: Abdullah Nouri (Khordad), Akbar Ganji (Sobh-e-Emrooz, Fat’h), Latif Safari (Neshat), Emadeddin Baghi (Fat’h, Neshat), and Mashallah Shamsolvaezin (Asr-e-Azadegan, Neshat). CPJ is currently investigating several other cases to determine whether the journalists are in prison because of their work.

Over the last two years, the generally conservative Iranian judiciary has waged an extensive campaign against the local reformist press, closing some 40 newspapers and prosecuting outspoken journalists. This campaign is a result of an ongoing political tug of war between conservatives and reformists. Most of the latter support President Muhammed Khatami’s agenda of social and political liberalization.