Thursday, May 25, 2006

Iranian dissident receives human rights award

Iranian journalist and political dissident, Akbar Ganji, has been awarded the annual Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA).

"He stood out in the eyes of the jury, composed by members of 11 different human rights organisations, in terms of the sacrifices he has made and the fact that he refused to compromise [for freedom of expression] in any way," Hans Thoolen, Chairman of the jury of the MEA, created in 1993 to encourage human rights defenders who are at risk and therefore in need of immediate protection, said from Geneva. READ MORE

Ganji was arrested on 22 April 2000 and imprisoned for six years over writings linking leading figures, including former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, to a series of political killings of opponents and intellectuals in 1998.

The 47-year-old was charged with "collecting confidential information harmful to national security" and continued to write when imprisoned, smuggling letters out to be published on the Internet. Ganji also wrote, in March 2002, a six chapter Republican Manifesto, which laid out plans for a democratic republic in Iran.

He was also accused, together with 17 other Iranian journalists and intellectuals, of attending a Berlin-held conference on reforms - a conference being charged as "anti-Islamic" by the Iranian government.

"He has taken tremendous risks and as soon as he came out from prison, he spoke again. He is a symbol of the human rights movement and stands up for human rights and democracy, which is a dangerous activity," the MEA chairman added.

During his imprisonment in the notorious Evin prison in Iran's capital, Tehran, in 2005, he went on a hunger strike for more than 40 days to demand his release. The US, the European Union (EU) and various international human rights organisations expressed concerns and called on the Iranian authorities to free him.

The MEA's award announcement on Tuesday in Atlanta said that the former Revolutionary Guard had steadfastly refused to compromise on the principle of democracy and human rights for all Iranians. The movement's collaboration partners, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, will present the award, worth US $15,000, on 12 October in Geneva.

"The most important thing about this award is the recognition and acknowledgement. Mr Ganji will come to Geneva to the ceremony unless he is being prevented, which I don't assume he will. He's not in jail, so I believe he will come," Thoolen said.

Ganji will share the award with Arnold Tsungam, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who was selected for providing a voice to Zimbabweans silenced by repression under the government of Robert Mugabe.