World Journalists Call for an End to “Vindictive Vendetta” Against Free Speech in Iran

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the Iranian authorities over a five-year “vindictive vendetta” to silence one of the state’s fiercest critics, journalist Akbar Ganji who has completed 53 days on hunger strike locked up in Tehran’s Evin prison.

Yesterday, Massoud Moqadasi, an Iranian judge who has been presiding over the high-profile trial and conviction of Ganji over five years was assassinated by a gunman on a motorcycle in central Tehran.

“The vindictive vendetta against journalists has led to this escalating violence against people associated with the case,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “This crisis for human rights and free speech must be ended.”

On 30 July, one of Ganji’s defence lawyers, Abdolfattah Soltani, was secretly detained. The co-founder of the Centre for Advocates of Human Rights along with Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, was arrested on the order of Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi, who was responsible for Ganji's conviction.

A spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, Karim Rad said that Soltani's charge is “a security crime including publicising confidential information of the case by speaking to a radio station and talking about the content of the case with relatives of the defendants”.

”With the inauguration of the new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier today, it is vital that the political will for change can come to the fore,” said White. “A significant first step would be signaled by the release of Ganji, one of the strongest Iranian campaigners for real change”.

Ganji, aged 46 has been in jail since July 2001. He began a hunger strike more than 50 days ago, demanding his unconditional release. Ganji now weighs just 52 kilos and is unconscious most of the time. His condition did not improve after he was transferred on 17 July to Milad hospital in northern Tehran, although he was put on a drip against his will.

Voicing support for the sit-in which Ganji's wife today began outside the United Nations office in Tehran, the IFJ called on journalists and the international community to take immediate action in pressing for the new Iranian president to set the journalist free.

Ganji's lawyer, the 2003 Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said she has "serious concerns about his state of health" but she has still not been allowed to see her client.

The IFJ is supporting its affiliate in Iran, the Association of Iranian Journalists (AIJ), in their calls for Ganji’s immediate release. The AIJ have been carrying out a rigorous campaign in efforts to secure their colleague’s freedom through constant protests and meetings over the course of the past three months.

Althought there was an apparent agreement last week to release him, the judicial officials reversed course after Mr. Ganji wrote two letters calling on Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to resign.

The IFJ is calling on the Iranian authorities to release Ganji immediately and is also campaigning for the release of another journalist, Masoud Bastani, arrested two weeks ago and who works for several reformist newspapers, including Etemad, Toseeh and Joumhoryat, and has written a lot about Ganji's plight. He is being held at Teheran's Evin prison, has not been allowed to receive visitors and may be transferred with common-law prisoners to a prison in Arak, in central Iran.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries