July 28, 2005

Iran’s Rafsanjani urges jailed writer’s release

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's former president Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani called on Thursday for the release of jailed
journalist Akbar Ganji, whose family says has been on hunger
strike for over six weeks, the official IRNA news agency said.

Ganji, an outspoken critic of the Islamic state's clerical
leadership, was jailed in 2001 following a series of articles
he wrote linking officials to the murder of political

A former hardline Revolutionary Guard turned radical
reformer, Ganji was rushed to a Tehran hospital last week.

Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997, said he
had been in talks with judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud
Hashemi-Shahroudi over Ganji's release.

"I am very sad about Ganji's case. I have talked to top
judiciary officials to solve the case," Rafsanjani said.

Senior judiciary officials have denied that Ganji is on
hunger strike and say he was taken to hospital for knee

But Ganji's wife told Reuters his health was suffering as a
result of his hunger strike, begun in protest against his
continued detention despite chronic asthma and back pain.

Rafsanjani, currently head of the Expediency Council, which
arbitrates on legislative disputes between parliament and a
hardline watchdog body, said: "Hopefully the problem will be
solved soon."

Officials at the Milad hospital where Ganji remains said
the maverick journalist's health was "very weak."

"Ganji's vital signs are normal, but it does not mean his
health situation is good," Sirous Tabesh, a spokesman for the
hospital told the Students News Agency ISNA.

"He does not cooperate with us and refuses to take anything
but water and tea," Tabesh said. "He might face electrolyte

Iran's outgoing President Mohammad Khatami has urged that
Ganji be paroled since he has just six months of his sentence
to run. The European Union and the United States have both also
called for Ganji's release.

Iran's judiciary has said it will not yield to
international pressure to free Ganji, but a senior judiciary
official said last week a pardon might be considered.
Ganji's family and rights activists say he has lost more than
55 lb in weight as a result of his fast.

Ganji's lawyer, Iran's 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin
Ebadi, and the Human Rights Watch organization have repeatedly
said Ganji's life is in danger.