Letter from Evin Prison

The Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji was arrested in Tehran in April 2000 and, after a series of trials, was sentenced to six years in prison for his political writings, for allegedly spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic, and for collecting confidential information harmful to national security. By now he has been in prison for nearly five years, part of the time in solitary confinement; the judicial authorities have suggested that more charges against Ganji for his various writings are pending. On July 18, on the thirty-eighth day of a hunger strike to protest his incarceration, Ganji, who had become gravely ill, was transferred from Evin Prison to a hospital. On August 22, he confirmed that he had broken his hunger strike.

Ganji, a young revolutionary in 1979, initially worked as an editor of publications circulated within the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. But in the 1990s, he became involved with reform journals. He was a member of the editorial board of the monthly Kiyan, Iran’s principal intellectual journal, before it was shut down by the authorities in 2000. Kiyan put forward to its educated readership the powerful ideas that fueled the reform movement that sprang up in the mid-1990s. In essays by Ganji and others it discussed the need in Iran for civil society, individual rights, the rule of law, and government answerable to the people. Kiyan also featured the essays of Abdolkarim Soroush, perhaps the most influential religious reformist thinker of his generation, who has argued for an approach to Islam that emphasizes pluralism, critical inquiry, and individual rights.

Ganji was also associated with several of the reformist newspapers that flourished during Mohammad Khatami’s first term as president between 1997 and 2001. In April 2000, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, charged that such newspapers had become “bases of the enemy” and were serving the aims of “enemy agents.” During the crackdown on the press that followed, more than one hundred publications were forced to close. Ganji was one of a number of journalists and intellectuals arrested, tried, and jailed as a result. But Ganji was given the longest and harshest prison term, principally, it is believed, because of a series of articles by him in the newspapers Sobh-e Emruz and ‘Asr-e Azadegan that indirectly implicated senior officials and clerics, as well as officials in the Ministry of Intelligence and other security agencies, in the “serial murders” of prominent intellectuals and dissidents.1 He also hinted at their complicity in the attempt on the life of Sa’id Hajjarian, Khatami’s principal political adviser, and earlier murders of writers and opposition political figures. Ganji accused clerics of issuing fatwas, or religious decrees, sanctioning these killings. He wrote of “gray eminences” who, behind closed doors, agreed on eliminating intellectuals and opposition figures. Ganji seemed to concentrate his criticism on Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, during whose presidency the first series of murders had taken place. In these writings Ganji had obviously gone too far.

While on a hunger strike in prison, Ganji issued a…

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