The Iranian Judiciary should immediately rescind its order to reimprison Akbar Ganji, an investigative journalist and one of the country’s leading dissidents, Human Rights Watch said today.
Ganji, who suffers from acute asthma, had been unable to get specialist medical treatment while serving a six-year prison term that began in April 2000. On May 30, the authorities granted him medical leave after he went on a hunger strike a week earlier to protest the authorities’ failure to treat his medical condition.
On Tuesday morning, a spokesman for the Judiciary, Jamal Karimirad, said that Ganji’s medical leave would be extended. But that very evening, agents of the Judiciary, operating under the authority of Tehran chief prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, went to Ganji’s house with an order to return him to prison, Ganji’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch. Ganji was not home at the time.
“The Judiciary’s decision to extend Akbar Ganji’s medical leave apparently carries little weight,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Chief Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi has shown once again that he is calling the shots in the Judiciary and is willing to go to any lengths to silence his critics.”
In his writings prior to his incarceration, Ganji exposed the role of high-ranking officials in orchestrating the murders of prominent intellectuals. Since his release, he has strongly criticized Iran’s presidential election process and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Powerful people were implicated by Akbar Ganji’s investigations,” Stork said. “They are willing to ignore the Judiciary’s decisions in order to put him behind bars again even though he has committed no crime whatsoever.”
In a related case, Nasser Zarafshan, the imprisoned lawyer who represented the families of intellectuals murdered by intelligence ministry agents in 1998, suffers from kidney disease and his health has been deteriorating rapidly. Zarafshan was himself sentenced to five year’s imprisonment by a military court in March 2002 for “disseminating confidential information.”
On Tuesday, Zarafshan started a hunger strike to protest the lack of medical treatment. Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned for Zarafshan’s health and holds the Iranian authorities responsible for his safety and well-being.
The Judiciary’s crackdown on free speech intensified on Sunday after 25-year-old blogger Mojtaba Saminejad was sentenced to two years for “insulting” Supreme Leader Khamanei. Saminejad faces another trail on June 21 on charges of “insulting the prophet and his family.”
“The Judiciary is using any excuse to suppress dissent and political speech,” Stork said. “Saminejad is being prosecuted solely for peaceful expression of his opinions.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Judiciary to release Zarafshan and Saminejad immediately and unconditionally and to end its persecution of Akbar Ganji.