Iran’s most prominent and internationally known political prisoner and dissident journalist, Akbar Ganji, has, as of July 14, 2005, entered his 34th day of a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his unjust imprisonment. His wife, Massoumeh Shafeih, is the last person to have visited him (on Monday, July 11, 2005), and reports him in being in critical condition, having lost 22 Kg (50 lb) of his body weight. Mr. Ganji suffers from asthma, and only one of the reasons for his hunger strike is the lack of attention paid by the prison authorities to address his health problems.
Mr. Ganji was originally imprisoned in 2001 for writing articles documenting the serial political assassinations of prominent writers and intellectuals in the 1990s, linking those assassinations to high ranking officials of the Islamic Republic regime, implicating Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former two-term president from 1989 to 1997.
According to reports, on July 9, “The European Union made, urgent representations about Akbar Ganji, a political prisoner detained in Iran’, according to a statement issued Friday night by the EU’s British Presidency,” (Payvand News, July 10, 2005). Likewise, President Bush made similar calls, although it is highly doubtful that his pronouncement would help Mr. Ganji at all.
In a June 15, 2005, joint declaration signed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The International Federation for Human Rights, Reporters without Borders, and Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, it was stated, “The Iranian Judiciary should immediately release prisoners of conscience, particularly those in urgent need of medical treatment.”
On July 12, a group of supporters of Mr. Ganji gathered in front of Tehran University to express their support and demand his immediate release. “Iranian police beat dozens of protesters with batons on Tuesday at a demonstration to call for the release of Iran’s most prominent jailed journalist,” reported Reuters, July 12. “About 150 people, mostly students, had gathered in front of Tehran University chanting “political prisoners must be freed” when dozens of police moved in to break up the protest.”
Mr. Ganji’s lawyer, the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, meanwhile, has been denied visits with his client. On one occasion, after Ms Ebadi’s persistent demands succeeded in her being allowed to see her client, the prison authorities would not allow the two to meet unsupervised, and due to this violation of his rights, Mr. Ganji turned around and returned to his solitary cell in protest.
According to Ms Ebadi, Tehran’s Attorney General has declared that Mr. Ganji is being denied his rights as a prisoner because he is conducting a hunger strike, which is against the prison rules!
Ms Ebadi, in London to meet with human rights organizations and international journalists, in a press conference (Tuesday, July 12), rightly posed a rhetorical question to draw attention to the hypocrisy and duplicity of the prison authorities as well as the officials of the Justice Ministry. “If the authorities consider hunger strike to be illegal, then how come a major street in Tehran is named after Bobby Sands?”
On Tuesday, July 13, Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the mistreatment of Mr. Ganji. “Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned for Ganji’s health. The Iranian judiciary’s refusal to release Ganji for medical treatment is cruel and inhumane,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It is a serious contravention of the most basic humanitarian standards, and the international community should strongly condemn it.”
Ganji has served nearly five-and-a-half years of his six-year sentence. As pointed out in the Human Rights Watch report, “Most prisoners in Iran are eligible for release after serving half of their sentence.” That he is still being so cruelly mistreated, even while on a hunger strike that may literally end his life any day, is proof that this regime is willing to kill this courageous soul while he is in prison rather than risk having a national hero being released, or receive proper medical care to ensure that he will be able to enjoy his freedom.
Mr. Ganji’s life is in a desperate situation and, as pointed out by Ms Ebadi, “Every hour and every day that passes, brings him that much closer to death.”
We call on all the freedom loving people in the world, and plea with all people of conscience, to raise their voices, and to bring pressure, by any means necessary, on the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Mr. Ganji immediately, or, short of that, to properly care for him at suitable medical facilities, as it is required by the laws of the judiciary pertaining to treatment of prisoners, and in the same manner as applied to other prisoners in Iran.
We also call on all fellow journalists around the world to publicize this horrific mistreatment of a fellow journalist in Iran. We must not stay silent about the fate of a fellow journalist, just as we must not stay silent over the fate of any political prisoner anywhere held illegally and against all ethics and morality.
We must stand up and declare unambiguously that any long term or fatal harm that may come to Mr. Ganji will be the sole responsibility of the Iranian government. The shame of this crime against humanity, against the freedom of expression, and against the freedom of journalists to carry out unimpeded their social duties, will be added to the very long roster of crimes committed by this regime against the people of Iran.
REZA FIYOUZAT is an applied linguist/university instructor, and freelance writer. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org