Saturday, March 18, 2006

Iran's top dissident released from jail - Reuters

Iran's most prominent political dissident, Akbar Ganji, has been released from prison after six years behind bars for criticising some of the most powerful figures in the Islamic Republic.

Ganji, a journalist, was jailed in 2000 after writing articles linking senior officials to the serial killings of political dissidents in 1998.

His articles particularly targeted powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's president from 1989 to 1997.

A cheerful but thin and heavily-bearded Ganji welcomed reporters into his Tehran apartment. He stuck to pleasantries and sidestepped politics.

"Thanks for coming," he said, grinning. "I am so sorry it is such a small place."

Lawyer Youssef Mowlaie told Reuters Ganji had been released late on Friday evening. He predicted a legal wrangle over whether Ganji would have to return to Tehran's feared Evin prison for a few more days.

Mowlaie said he reckoned his client's jail term ended on March 17, but a senior judiciary figure disagreed.

"Currently, he is on leave and his sentence will end on March 30," Mahmoud Salarkia, deputy prosecutor-general for prison affairs, told the official IRNA news agency.

Salarkia said Ganji was allowed to return home for seven days to celebrate the Iranian New Year holiday which starts on Monday night. However, Ganji's wife insisted her husband was staying at home for good.

Ganji spent stints in solitary confinement and fell gravely ill in July, weakened by a hunger strike aimed at persuading authorities to release him. The reporter's case sparked outrage from the United States and European Union.

Ganji, born in 1959, was a devoted follower of the 1979 Islamic revolution and served in the hardline Revolutionary Guards. He has been criticised for his propaganda work and his surveillance of Iranian student activities in Turkey.

However, his political views changed sharply and his letters from prison broke two of Iran's biggest taboos, both criticising the system of clerical rule and levelling personal attacks on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Original Article


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