President George W. Bush has called on the government of Iran to release Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji from prison "immediately and unconditionally." A statement issued by the White House says that Mr. Ganji has been sentenced to jail "for advocating free speech…[and] because of his political views." The White House statement addressed the imprisoned journalist directly: "Mr. Ganji, please know that as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."
Akbar Ganji has been jailed for the last five years and is in poor health. He was sent to prison after writing a series of newspaper articles implicating Iranian government officials in the murders of political dissidents and intellectuals in the 1990s. He has called for democratic reform in Iran. He was briefly released on a temporary medical leave but was ordered back to jail after describing Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as a dictator and urging him to make himself accountable to the Iranian people.
Akbar Ganji has reportedly been on a hunger strike since his return to jail in June. He was visited recently by his wife, who said that his physical condition was very poor, but that his spirits remain high. Mr. Ganji says that on no account will he renounce his political beliefs.
On the same day that the White House issued its statement of support for Mr. Ganji, dozens of demonstrators were beaten outside of Tehran University. At least one-hundred fifty people, most of them students, were demanding the release of Akbar Ganji and other political prisoners. According to press reports, police struck both male and female protestors with batons to break up the demonstration.
The treatment of Akbar Ganji and those Iranians who speak out on his behalf shows why White House spokesman Scott McClellan characterizes Iran's clerical rulers as "the unelected few that are denying the people their rights:"
"They're denying freedom of the press; they're denying freedom of assembly; they're denying rule of law; they're denying equal justice."
The White House statement says Akbar Ganji "is sadly only one victim of a wave of repression and human rights violations engaged in by the Iranian regime. His calls for freedom deserve to be heard. His valiant efforts should not go in vain. The President [Bush] 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."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.