Bush Calls for Jailed Reporter's Release
By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 38 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - President Bush called Tuesday for the release of an Iranian journalist jailed for writing articles linking government officials to murder.
Akbar Ganji was sentenced to six years in jail in 2000 after his investigation of the murders of five dissidents by Intelligence Ministry agents. Ganji was convicted on charges that the articles he wrote violated the law.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement that Ganji has been jailed for his political views and that Bush calls on Iran to release Ganji "immediately and unconditionally."
"Mr. Ganji is sadly only one victim of a wave of repression and human rights violations engaged in by the Iranian regime," McClellan's statement said. "His calls for freedom deserve to be heard. His valiant efforts should not go in vain. The president calls on all supporters of human rights and freedom, and the United Nations, to take up Ganji's case and the overall human rights situation in Iran.
"Mr. Ganji, please know that as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you," the statement said.
The State Department called for Ganji's release last month.
Iran's judiciary has closed more than 100 pro-democracy publications in the past five years, including the papers for which Ganji wrote, on vague charges of insulting religious sanctities and top clerics.
The Intelligence Ministry blamed the murders on "rogue agents," but Ganji's articles said the 1998 killings were ordered by senior hard-liners in the ruling Islamic establishment, including former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian. Fallahian has denied any involvement.
In May, Ganji was released temporarily from prison to seek medical attention, ending a 43-day hunger strike. He returned to jail in June and has since resumed his strike.
"Through his now monthlong hunger strike, Mr. Ganji is demonstrating that he is willing to die for his right to express his opinion," McClellan said. "President Bush is saddened by recent reports that Mr. Ganji's health has been failing and deeply concerned that the Iranian government has denied him access to his family, medical treatment and legal representation. "
About 300 demonstrators gathered outside Tehran University on Tuesday demanding Ganji's release. Around 100 police in riot-gear beat back some protesters, but there were no reports of injuries or arrests.