Iranian journalist Akbar GanjiThe International Press Institute named Iranian journalist and dissident Akbar Ganji as this year’s World Press Freedom Hero, in recognition of his decades of work defending freedom of speech and equal rights for all, in the face of continued harassment and imprisonment.

Often called ‘Iran’s most prominent political dissident’, Ganji spent six years in Iran’s infamous Evin prison for a 1999 series of articles which he, (along with investigative journalist Emadeddin Baghi) wrote on Iran’s notorious ‘chain murders’, for the daily publication, Sobh Emrouz.

His expose is credited with spurring the defeat of a number of conservative candidates in the 2000 elections.

In December 2000, two months after the elections, Ganji was arrested and accused of endangering national security and spreading propaganda. He was eventually sentenced to six years in prison, much of which he spent in solitary confinement.

Despite the brutal prison conditions, Ganji continued to write.

His ‘Republican Manifesto’ outlined the steps by which Iran could achieve a secular democracy, and emphasized respect for human rights, an independent press and an independent judiciary.

He was released in 2006, and left Iran immediately. He has since continued campaigning for freedom and liberty for Iran and for all nations.

“We are delighted to name Akbar Ganji our 59th World Press Freedom Hero”, said an official for the Press association. “His courage in the face of intimidation and his continued fight for truth and justice should serve as an inspiration to all of us. His struggle is especially relevant now, in light of the continued persecution of political prisoners in Iran.”

Ganji was involved with the Iranian revolution at an early age, even joining the Revolutionary Guard, a branch of Iran’s military constituted after the 1979 revolution, but he soon grew disillusioned with the ideology of the revolution he had supported, as ‘one despotic kingdom replaced another despotic kingdom’.

In the mid-1990s, he turned to journalism. In 1998, a year after the election of then-obscure cleric and reformist Mohammad Khatami to the presidency in the 1997 elections, Ganji spoke out against the dangers of a fascist interpretation of religion. He was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison, but was released after three months. He has also written about his opposition to velayat-e-faqih, (the clause in the Iranian constitution that calls for an Islamic jurist to serve as the Supreme Leader of the government).

The honoring of Akbar Ganji was unanimously approved by the five-member IPI World Press Freedom Hero jury.  Ganji will be one of 60 World Press Freedom Heroes honoured in a ceremony to commemorate IPI’s 60th year of defending press freedom worldwide at the IPI World Congress in Vienna and Bratislava, from 11-14 September 2010.

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