August 11, 2005

Protest over Iran journalist on hunger strike

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Around 250 supporters of Akbar Ganji,
the Iranian dissident journalist who has been on hunger strike
for 63 days, held a peaceful protest on Thursday outside the
hospital where he is being held.

It was the latest effort by supporters of the maverick
journalist, jailed in 2000 for "acting against national
security" and other crimes, to call for his release and try to
persuade him to end his hunger strike.

Former student activist Ali Afshari said officials
prevented a delegation of the supporters from visiting Ganji,
whose plight has provoked outrage and concern from the White
House, the European Union and many human rights groups.

"From now on, the responsibility for Akbar's Ganji's life
rests on the shoulders of those who didn't let us in today,"
Afshari said.

The demonstrators, many of them prominent reformist
activists who had hoped to persuade Ganji to resume eating,
sang songs and waved pictures of him.

"After 63 days of hunger strike, Ganji has lost 30 kg (66
lbs)," said Hessam Firouzi, a doctor among Ganji's supporters
who was permitted to study his medical chart. "Since two days
ago he has been in an intensive care unit."

Ganji began his hunger strike in June to pressure the
judiciary to grant him unconditional release. He was moved to a
Tehran hospital, where he is kept under guard, last month as
his health seriously deteriorated.