July 24, 2005

Iran’s Ebadi says jailed journalist in poor health

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian human rights lawyer and 2003
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi warned on Sunday that her
client, jailed journalist Akbar Ganji, is in failing health and
complained she had not been allowed to visit him.

Ganji, 46, an outspoken critic of the Islamic state's
clerical leadership, jailed in 2001, was rushed to hospital
last Sunday after a five-week hunger strike. His wife said on
Friday that his health was deteriorating.

"I call on the judiciary and human rights groups to pay
serious attention to my client's dangerous situation," Ebadi
said in a statement faxed to Reuters.

"Ganji's wife says his hunger strike continues in the
hospital. He has even lost weight since being hospitalised."

Ebadi also criticized Iran's judiciary for refusing to
allow her to visit him.

"As Ganji's lawyer I have not been allowed to visit him in
the hospital," said Ebadi. "This is unlawful."

There was no immediate official response to the statement.

Ganji's family and rights activists say he has lost more
than 52 lb (24 kg) in weight during his 43-day hunger strike,
which he says is a protest against his continued detention
while suffering chronic asthma and back pain.

Senior judiciary officials have denied the investigative
journalist is on hunger strike and said his admission to
hospital last weekend was for knee surgery.

Ganji, a former hardline Revolutionary Guard turned radical
reformer, was sentenced to six years in prison following a
series of articles he wrote linking officials to the murder of
political dissidents.

The European Union and the United States have both called
for his release.

Iran's outgoing President Mohammad Khatami has urged that
Ganji be paroled since he has just six months of his sentence
left to complete.

Iran's judiciary has said it will not yield to
international pressure to free Ganji, but a senior judiciary
official said on Thursday that a pardon might be considered.

Iran has a dismal record on press freedom, closing more
than 100 liberal publications and jailing several journalists
in a concerted crackdown on reformist media since 2000.