Immediate release is sought

New York, July 18, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed deep concern today about the health of jailed Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji, who was reported hospitalized during his more than month-long hunger strike.

Massoumeh Shafii, Ganji’s wife, told Reuters that Ganji had been taken to Tehran’s Milad Hospital, the news agency reported today. She said Ganji was hospitalized because of health problems brought on by his hunger strike, which the journalist has waged to protest his imprisonment. His family and human rights activists said Ganji has lost more than 50 pounds during the hunger strike, Reuters reported.

The Iranian government today offered a different explanation for his hospitalization. Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, told the official IRNA news agency, that Ganji was taken to the hospital for knee surgery.

Ganji, 46, a leading investigative reporter for the now-defunct reformist daily Sobh-eEmrooz, was imprisoned in 2000 and sentenced to six years in jail for articles linking senior government officials to the 1998 killings of several dissidents and intellectuals.

“We are very concerned about the health of our colleague, Akbar Ganji, who felt compelled to wage this hunger strike to call attention to his unjust imprisonment,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “He should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

CPJ and other press and human rights groups have called for Ganji’s release. The United States and the European Union have also sought Ganji’s release and have criticized Iran for denying the journalist access to medical treatment, his family, and legal representation, Reuters reported. Outgoing President Mohammad Khatami has urged that Ganji be granted parole, but Iran’s hard-line judiciary has refused.

Over the past five years, the judiciary has closed more than 100 publications, most of them reformist, on vague charges of insult and blasphemy, CPJ research shows. Iran’s government told the United States today to stay out of Ganji’s case, The Associated Press reported.