Jailed dissident maybe pardoned

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran’s hardline judiciary said Wednesday it may consider a pardon for dissident writer Akbar Ganji, the country’s highest profile political prisoner who has been on hunger strike for five weeks.
“Maybe a pardon can be applied to him. We are considering the matter,” judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi was quoted as saying by students news agency ISNA.

“We are considering legal terms to see if public amnesties can be applied to his case or not,” he said. “If he has a right with regard to law, he will be released.”

Ganji was sentenced in 2001 to six years behind bars over articles he wrote linking senior regime officials, including ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian, to the serial murders of several intellectuals and writers.

Ganji, a 46-year-old writer who resumed a hunger strike on June 11 in a bid to win his freedom, said he will keep up the action indefinitely until he is unconditionally released.

Concerns about his health mounted after he was admitted to hospital on Sunday outside his Tehran prison, following a letter from Ganji in which he warned he was close to death.

His wife said last week after Ganji was transferred to a prison hospital that he weighed no more than 54 kilogrammes and his blood pressure had fallen sharply.

But judicial officials said Ganji had been transferred from the prison clinic to Tehran’s Milad hospital for an operation on his knee and that he had ended his hunger strike.

There have been widespread calls for him to be released, including from the European Union, Iranian Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi and US President George W. Bush.

Shahroudi said Iran’s outgoing President Mohammed Khatami “asked me to study the situation and I did so. There have been good works done on Ganji’s case.”

Asked if Ganji could be kept in prison at the end of his term, Shahroudi said: “There is no pending case against him.”

Up until now, the Iranian judiciary has refused to countenance his release, considering that he was continuing to defy the Islamic regime from his prison cell and had not shown any sign of repentance.

“What would people think if Ganji says something, wins the support of Bush and then we yield,” said Tehran judiciary chief Abbas-Ali Alizadeh. “If we agreed to such things we would no longer be able to manage the prisons.”

Although sentenced in 2001, Ganji has been behind bars since 2000 and only has a few more months of his term to serve.

Hanged child rapist was 16 when crimes committed
TEHRAN (AFP) — One of two men publicly hanged in Iran after he was convicted of raping a child was 16 years old at the time the crime was committed, a source close to the executed man said Wednesday.

Despite growing international pressure on Iran to stop executing juvenile criminals, the 18-year-old was hanged in northeastern Iran on Tuesday along with another man before hundreds of spectators, witnesses said. A source who did not wished to be identified said the man, whom he called Mahmoud A., was 16 years old at the time of the crime.

According to the Quds newspaper, the two had abducted a 13-year-old boy a year ago and raped him at knife-point. The report added that both convicts were also given 228 lashes each for drinking, disturbing the peace and theft.

The European Union and international human rights advocates have been pressuring Iran to stop executing those under age 18.

The UN General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution in December denouncing the practice of executing minors in Iran. According to the Sharq newspaper, another man was executed in January after he was convicted of fatally stabbing a soldier when he was 17 years old.

Iran’s ultra-conservative judiciary has responded to critics by saying minors are not executed in the Islamic republic.

In April, the judiciary offered a stay of execution because of his age to one youth who was to be hanged after being accused of rape in collusion with his father.

The hardline judiciary has also proposed a law that would prohibit the death penalty or flagellation for those who were minors at the time they were accused of committing crimes. According to Iranian law, a boy can be executed from the age of 15, and a girl from the age of nine.

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