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IRAN: Ganji near death as one of his legal team is arrested

TEHRAN, 31 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Hunger-striking political prisoner Akbar Ganji was near death, his wife told the student news agency (ISNA) on Friday. "When we were leaving his room, he went numb...I told them to re-attach the tube of drips with my permission so that he stays alive," ISNA quoted Massoumeh Shafiie as saying.

Akbar Ganji

Saturday marked the fiftieth day of Ganji's hunger strike and he has been refusing to receive his drip for several days.

As Ganji's condition worsened, Iran's conservative judiciary arrested a leading human rights lawyer who has been acting on behalf of the political prisoner.

Abdolfattah Soltani

Abdolfattah Soltani is also one of the lawyers working on the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who died while detained in Tehran's notorious Evin prison in 2003. She had been arrested for taking photographs of protestors outside the prison.

Nobel Laureate and human rights lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, who is also working on Ganji's case, said she had no idea why Soltani had been arrested, but the government maintained she was arrested on charges of leaking secrets from a trial of 10 people accused of spying on nuclear facilities for Israel.

Vigil in front of Ganji's house on Sat. July 30

While in prison, Ganji has been writing increasingly controversial letters and last week a letter, supposedly from Ganji, crossed one of Iran's 'red lines' by questioning the authority of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling on him to step down.

A former hardline Revolutionary guard, Akbar Ganji is now Iran's most famous political prisoner and an outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic's clerical leadership.

Ganj was jailed in 2001 on a variety of charges. Some charges related to an article he wrote that linked some of the country's top officials to the 1998 murder of dissident intellectuals, known as the 'serial murders.' He was temporarily released from prison in May for medical care, when he came to the end of a 43-day hunger strike.

However, his family says he resumed his hunger strike on 11 June and he was rushed to a Tehran hospital last week as concerns for his health mounted. The judiciary denies he is on hunger strike and said he had been admitted to hospital for a knee operation.

Ganji has gained cult status in the country and has become a symbol of resistance for Iran's embattled reformists. He case has drawn international concern, with US President George W Bush calling for his release.

Prominent Iranian politicians are also calling for Ganji's release, including ex-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani under whose presidency Ganji wrote about the political killings.

Recently, Iran's hardline judiciary released an unprecedented report admitting that human rights abuses in the country's prisons were widespread.

According to ISNA, the report said that prisoners faced torture, solitary confinement, unwarranted arrest and possibly sexual harassment when detained by Iran's judiciary, military and police.

Vigil in front of Ganji's house on Sat. July 30

In 2004, anti-torture legislation was written into law, banning torture and solitary confinement, an order from Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi. But according to ISNA, the judicial report said that the legislation had been ignored in several cases.

"The report accepts that torture and solitary confinement exist in detention centres and asks for measures to address this," wrote ISNA.

But the head of the judiciary, Abbas Ali Alizadeh, reacted to the disclosure of the report by saying these problems had already been dealt with.

"We've taken steps and we can proudly say that all these failings have now disappeared," he told the AFP news agency. "Iranian prisons are among the best in the world."

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

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