Iranian journalist Ganji freed after six years in prison

New York, March 20, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from prison of prominent Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji, freed on Friday after six years behind bars, but the organization calls on authorities to release all Iranian journalists jailed for their work. At least nine journalists are now jailed in Iran, CPJ research shows.

“We are relieved that our colleague Akbar Ganji was at last released, but he should not have served one day in prison,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Ganji endured torture and several years in solitary confinement for expressing his opinion. His imprisonment serves as a glaring example of Iran’s iron-fisted suppression of the media.”

Mahmoud Salarkia, deputy prosecutor general for prison affairs, told the official IRNA news agency that Ganji’s sentence had been scheduled to end on March 30, Reuters reported. Salarkia said Ganji was allowed to return home for a week to mark the Iranian New Year holiday, which starts tonight. Ganji’s lawyer told Reuters that authorities could still return Ganji to Tehran’s Evin prison to serve out the remaining few days.

Ganji, a leading reporter for the now defunct reformist daily Sobh-eEmrooz, was imprisoned for investigative articles that implicated top officials in the 1998 killings of several dissidents and intellectuals. He was first jailed in 2000 for “taking part in an offense against national security” and promoting “propaganda against the Islamic system.” In 2001, he was convicted of “collecting confidential state documents to jeopardize state security” and “spreading propaganda.”

In May 2005, Iranian newspapers published an account that Ganji smuggled from Evin prison in which he claimed authorities were using “physical and mental torture” to extract confessions from inmates. He waged several hunger strikes to protest his imprisonment and lack of medical treatment.

His wife, Massoumeh Shafii, published an open letter on the Emrouz news Web site on October 27, 2005, claiming Ganji was tortured and mistreated by security officers while being treated in Tehran’s Milad hospital. The United States and the European Union sought Ganji’s release and criticized Iran for denying him medical treatment, access to his family, and legal representation.

Seven Iranian journalists were taken into custody in late January after publishing a satirical article that criticized the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The journalists, who work for the Bandar Abbas weekly Tammadon-e Hormozgan, have spent more than seven weeks in detention pending investigation into the article. The journalists have not had access to their families, lawyers, or medical treatment, Amnesty International said.

The article, written by an Iranian blogger in Germany, likened Iran’s 1979 revolution and Khomeini’s subsequent reign to the AIDS virus. Authorities closed the weekly, saying it had violated Iran’s press laws. While no formal charges have been disclosed, the journalists could face flogging and lengthy prison sentences under Iran’s penal code for insulting Khomeini or the office of the supreme leader.

Two Web bloggers are also in prison. Mojtaba Saminejad was sentenced in June 2005 to two years in prison for “insulting the supreme leader.” Arash Sigarchi, a blogger and editor of the daily Gilan-e-Emrouz in northern Iran, was sentenced in January to three years in prison on charges of espionage, propaganda against the state, and insulting leaders.