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THE IRANIAN
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Iranian rights committee hopes for early verdict on dissident writer

TEHRAN, Sept 7 (AFP) - An Iranian human rights group expressed the hope here on Sunday that a court verdict would be issued shortly on the dissident Iranian writer Faraj Sarkuhi.

"Judicial investigation is being conducted in the case and the committee is overseeing the entire procedure," the head of the Islamic Committee for Human Rights, Mohammad-Hassan Ziai-Far, told newspapers.

"We hope that a ruling would be announced on Sarkuhi shortly," he said.

Ziai-Far also confirmed that the writer had been visited last week by his family in his prison cell in the southern city of Shiraz.

A German newspaper broke the news last week, saying Sarkuhi's family had informed the writer's wife, who lives in Berlin, of the visit by telephone.

The writer appeared to be in very poor physicial and psychological condition, according to his mother, who added that their conversation lasted only eight minutes and that they were separated by a window.

Sarkuhi, the former chief editor of the literary monthly Adineh, was arrested in February for allegedly trying to flee the country illegally.

He had also been arrested several times in 1996, once as he dined with the German cultural attache in Tehran in July and again in November as he prepared to take a flight to Germany where his wife lives.

In June, Iran's chief justice, the conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, said Sarkuhi had been charged with "spying for a foreign country and attempting to illegally leave the country."

Spying for a foreign country is punishable by death in Iran.

Iran has come under pressure from Western countries and human rights organisations to free Sarkuhi.

Ziai-Far said last month he had seen a letter from Sarkuhi dated July 8 in which he admitted "certain faults" and asked foreign countries "not to become involved in this internal affair."

He also wrote that he had "no bad intentions" in his links with some foreign diplomats and cultural centers, and asked Ziai-Far's organization to help soften his punishment.

Sarkuhi was among 134 writers and journalists who signed a petition in October 1994 calling for more freedom of expression in Iran.

The Islamic Committee for Human Rights, founded two years ago, is made up of nine members -- judges, lawyers and MPs sympathetic to the Islamic republic.

Related links

* The Sarkuhi page
* Iran News page
* Complete list of Iranian online media

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