October 11, 2005

Iran journalist disappears after second arrest

ABC Online : Australian Broadcasting Corporation

PM - Tuesday, 11 October , 2005  18:42:00

Reporter: Mark Colvin


Mohsen Sazegara is an Iranian dissident, himself sentenced in exile to seven years’ jail, who's currently at Yale University. He told me about Akbar Ganji's case.


Download. Duration: 00:04:27 ( mp3: 1.02MB ) - ( rm: 208KB)



MARK COLVIN: It seems hard to believe that someone as visible as a journalist could just disappear, but that's what's happened in Iran, in the case of a writer called Akbar Ganji.

Akbar Ganji was one of Iran's foremost journalists until about five years ago, when he fell foul of the authorities.

He wrote a series of articles linking a number of execution-style murders to the Interior Ministry, the security services, and perhaps most dangerously to the powerful Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Then while he was in jail doing a five-year sentence for that, he wrote two major pieces arguing for an end to the rule by Ayatollahs, and laying out a vision for a secular Republic in Iran.

In return, the authorities told him they just wouldn't let him out at the end of his sentence.

So Akbar Ganji went on a 79-day hunger strike – at the end of which they finally did let him out for medical treatment.

But then they re-arrested him, and since just before the end of August he's not been seen or heard from.

Organisations like Reporters without Borders are getting increasingly worried.

Mohsen Sazegara is an Iranian dissident, himself sentenced in exile to seven years’ jail, who's currently at Yale University. He told me about Akbar Ganji's case.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA: They put pressure on him that you have to write something to deny his article, and he said that, no, I don’t do that, I believe in what I have written already.

So he said that I don’t go back to prison anymore, because I have been in jail for five years, and I don't go to deny my article. And if you put me in jail again, I'll go on a hunger strike.

You know, that was during the presidential election, and he said that the only solution for the country is resignation of the leader, and he must go.

After that they arrested him, and he has started a hunger strike, which took about 79 days.

MARK COLVIN: And that must have really taken it out of him. He lost a huge amount of weight and it must have been very bad for his health.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA: If you go 79 days on a hunger strike… I lost about 30 kilograms of my weight, I was on hunger strike for 56 days, and after that, after three weeks, I started again for 23 days more, totally that was 79 days, and when I was released I was only 42 or 43 kilograms. Before starting hunger strike I was 72 kilograms.

MARK COLVIN: Did it take a long time for your health to recover?

MOHSEN SAZEGARA: Yeah, that was the main reason that I came out of the country, for my, both eyes and my heart.

MARK COLVIN: So with Akbar Ganji back in prison now, and apparently not allowed any contact even with his wife, and no one knowing where or how he is, you must be very worried.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA: That's true, that's the reason that everybody worries about him, and I'm sure that he now he's in a very, very poor health, and he must be under medical treatment and in hospital to take care of him.

And that's really something that worries everybody, because we don’t know that in what condition he lives now, and even his wife doesn't have any news about him and any information about him.

MARK COLVIN: Do you think that people in Australia or the Australian Government should be doing anything about this, and if so, what?

MOHSEN SAZEGARA: International pressure is very, very effective, so if they put pressure, I mean, the Australian Government, they put pressure, write letter, talk to officials, and the people and journalists, intellectuals, to the Government of Iran, especially to the leader, because he is responsible for the life of Ganji, as he has written already to at least let his wife to go and see him.

I think that this would be really effective.

MARK COLVIN: Mohsen Sazegara, the Iranian dissident, speaking to me on a mobile phone line from Yale University in the United States.