Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Dissident Ganji Is Returned to Prison

Eli Lake, The NY Sun:
Iranian dissident leader Akbar Ganji was sent back to Evin Prison from Milad Hospital over the weekend after having been led to believe his release was imminent, according to his wife.

Iran's justice minister, Jamal Karimirad, on Sunday told reporters that Mr. Ganji would be transported to Evin Prison because he had sufficiently recovered from his hunger strike, which lasted more than two months and ended in August. Mr. Ganji started his hunger strike at Evin on June 11, in part to protest his solitary confinement and inhumane treatment there. "Akbar Ganji was transferred to Evin Prison after the hospital leave and will serve his sentence," Mr. Karimirad told the Iran Student News Agency on Sunday. READ MORE

Mr. Ganji was originally jailed for blaming in his writings a series of murders of Iranian intellectuals on members of the regime. He attracted widespread support from pro-democracy groups and individuals from both in and outside of Iran, and has become a symbol of the country's opposition movement. His cause has this summer attracted the support of President Bush and E.U. leaders, who demanded the Iranian regime free the journalist. His plight has also recently attracted the attention of five Nobel Peace Prize winners, and former political prisoners such as Natan Sharansky and Vaclav Havel. Eventually, Secretary-General Annan intervened on Mr. Ganji's behalf as well.

So when Mr. Ganji formally broke his hunger strike August 22, his family and supporters, who urged him to eat again, expected that he would soon be allowed to return to his home in Tehran. On August 25, Mr. Ganji's wife, Massoumeh Shafieh, told Iranian reporters: "We are hoping he will be home soon, and we may arrange a short vacation so our family can be together without this tense environment. We need to take care of our kids so they will emotionally be ready for school."

Last week, a Persian Web magazine, Rooz Online, reported that Ms. Shafieh received assurances from Milad Hospital officials that her husband would be released in the coming days, and that she had made a formal request to Iran's prosecutor-general in light of the fact that Mr. Ganji has only four months of his six-year sentence remaining. Ms. Shafieh also said on Thursday that no one had been allowed to visit her husband since August 23.

The deal for Mr. Ganji's release seems to have fallen through. Yesterday, Ms. Shafieh told the BBC that her husband's jailors betrayed him, adding that he only began eating after receiving assurances that he would not have to return to Evin. Mr. Ganji's pardon could have been set for September 4, the day Mohammed was named as prophet. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pardoned "7,780 people who had received prison sentences from public, military, and revolutionary courts" on Sunday.

Mr. Ganji was rearrested on June 11 after having left Evin Prison to receive medical treatment for his asthma. While out of prison, he gave an interview to Rooz Online in which he called for the supreme leader to stand for office and urged Iranians to join in the boycott of the June presidential election that brought hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into power. When Mr. Ganji was in prison, he wrote several open letters challenging Mr. Khamenei's authority that were smuggled to the outside world.

Mr. Ganji's defiance from inside prison has inspired the country's largest student organization, Tahkim Vahdat, to step up its own activities, according to a member of the organization who moved to America this year, Akbar Atri. In an interview last month, Mr. Atri told The New York Sun that he expected the organization to redouble its efforts in the fall to draft a new political platform to confront Mr. Khamenei. He also expected the organization to begin negotiations soon with ethnic opposition groups in Iran as well as trade unions and women's organizations in the hopes of rekindling a united opposition.