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US Renews Call for Release of Jailed Iranian Dissident Akbar Ganji

The United States Thursday reiterated its call on Iranian authorities to release Akbar Ganji, an investigative journalist imprisoned since 2000 for writings critical of the government. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said this week Mr. Ganji has been tortured and is in ill health.

The State Department has renewed a public call on Iran to immediately release Mr. Ganji, after receiving reports that the imprisoned journalist's health is at serious risk.

The U.S. statement, repeating a call for Mr. Ganji's release made last June, came a day after Human Rights Watch alleged that Iranian authorities have tortured Mr. Ganji to try to get him to renounce his writings and said that his situation is extremely critical.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the report that Mr. Ganji's health is at serious risk is consistent with a charge by his wife last month that he had undergone beatings in detention, and that the abuse continued even while he was hospitalized following a hunger strike in August.

"Mr. Ganji has spent more than five years in prison due to his peaceful advocacy for free speech and democracy," said Mr. McCormack. "His imprisonment and any inhumane treatment are serious violations of fundamental human rights. The United States call for the immediate and unconditional release of Akbar Ganji as well as his immediate access to medical assistance and legal representation."

Mr. Ganji was sentenced to six years in prison in 2001 after being convicted of spreading propaganda and acting against Iranian national security.

He had earlier published a series of articles alleging that high-level government officials were involved in the murder of several writers and intellectuals in 1998.

Spokesman McCormack said Mr. Ganji is one of many courageous Iranians who have challenged the clerical regime's repressive policies, and have suffered dire consequences for efforts to advance the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.

He said the United States calls on the international community to continue to press for the release of all political prisoners in Iran.

On another issue, Spokesman McCormack said Thursday a U.S. investigation into whether Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might have been involved in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran has ended inconclusively.

The inquiry began at the time of Mr. Ahmadinejad's election in June, when several former U.S. diplomats held hostage at the embassy said they recognized the Iranian leader as one of their interrogators.

But other ex-hostages say they do not recall seeing Mr. Ahmadinejad, and Mr. McCormack said the issue cannot be settled in the absence of definitive information from Iran.

"There are certainly different memories of his potential participation. I think in the interview process, that's the conclusion we arrived at," he noted. "We in no way want to discount the recollections of those who say he was involved in some fashion with the questioning and the holding of the hostages. So we have arrived at a point where really the ball is in the Iranians' court in order to answer there unresolved questions."

Aides to Mr. Ahmadinejad have denied that he took part in storming the embassy but have been vague about whether he had any role in the 444-day hostage crisis.

The mob attack on the embassy helped trigger a break in relations between the two countries that continues to this day.