Iran Arrests Outspoken Journalist
Writer Linked Government to Killings of Reform Activists
The Washington Post
April 23, 2000, Sunday
TEHRAN, April 22 An Iranian journalist who has written explosive reports
linking government officials to the killings of dissidents and writers
was arrested today in court, where he had been summoned to answer charges
that his articles violated the country's press laws. Related
Through his newspaper column and a best-selling book, Akbar Ganji, 40,
has become both a national hero and a marked man. He has shocked readers
with his boldness, referring regularly to Iran's powerful conservative
Muslim clerics as "religious fascists" and reaching far beyond
the newly expanded red lines of Iran's media.
Much of Ganji's work has focused on the 1998 killings of five pro-reform
dissidents; Ganji has suggested that a shadowy clique of government officials
known as the "Gray Monsignors" issued those death orders, and
perhaps are responsible for as many as 80 killings since the late 1980s.
He has repeatedly called on those behind the killings to come forward.
"This is the price I have to pay to pursue the case of the murders,"
Ganji told reporters as he headed into court. "But the future is bright.
No one created the reforms and nobody can stop them."
Ganji is just the latest reformist journalist summoned to court in recent
weeks, as the Islamic hard-liners who control the country's judiciary have
been stepping up investigations of the media in the wake of the reformists'
overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections in February. Iran's supreme
religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently condemned the reformist
press as "enemies" of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
But to the country's avid newspaper readers, frustrated by years of
conservative political and economic mismanagement, Ganji is a celebrity.
His fans eagerly await his latest missives and he is often mobbed by well-wishers
on the streets.
Ganji, who sees himself as a deeply religious man, said in an interview
last week that he fears Iran's conservatives have transformed Islam into
"a semi-totalitarian political ideology," a view held by many
of Iran's leading reformists but rarely articulated with such audacity.
Anti-reform conservatives have called Ganji a traitor, and he said he
has received death threats. But Ganji, a former member of Iran's hard-line
Revolutionary Guard military corps, said he is undeterred.
"Democratization has costs that I am willing to bear. . . . I am
simply seeking the truth so we can eliminate the use of politically inspired
violence in our society."
The threat of violence here is real. Saeed Hajjarian, another outspoken
pro-democracy reformist and top political adviser to President Mohammed
Khatemi, was shot at close range one month ago. He is recovering in a Tehran
"The night before Hajjarian's shooting, I met with him and he told
me to watch out," Ganji said. "He thought they were going to
The "they" Ganji refers to is murky. Deep within Iran's internal
security organs, Ganji alleges, there is a group of hard-liners willing
to kill based on orders from shadowy Gray Monsignors, conservative clerics
linked to state bodies. This group, Ganji contends, was responsible for
the killings of Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, a husband-and-wife dissident
team, and three writers.
After the high-profile 1998 killings, a government investigation fingered
a former senior intelligence official, Saeed Emami, as responsible for
the killings of the dissidents. Emami was arrested, a development regarded
as a victory for reformists.
Before Emami could be tried, however, he committed suicide under mysterious
circumstances, leaving many questions unanswered--questions that gnaw at
Ganji and other reformists.
"I think we need to look above Emami, to see who gave the orders.
When these people are arrested, then it will, hopefully, prevent similar
crimes," Ganji said. "If we fail to pursue this case, such heinous
acts might be repeated."
Ganji said he has a good idea of the identities of the Gray Monsignors,
but publishing them could lead to serious libel issues under Iran's press
laws, unless he came up with unimpeachable evidence.
After his arrest today, Ganji was taken to Tehran's Evin prison, court
sources said. In 1997, Ganji spent two months behind bars for giving a
speech in which he implicated Iran's conservative clerics as "fascists."
Despite the dark nature of his investigations, Ganji is optimistic about
Iran's future. He said he believes fervently in the country's democratic
movement and sees no contradiction between Islam and his goals of political
pluralism, freedom, human rights and civil society.
"We have no choice but to move in the direction of democracy,"
he said. "This movement is good for the country and good for our future.
I only hope we can do it peacefully."
Special correspondent Afshin Molavi contributed to this report.