Akbar Ganji 88.
(photo credit: )
Prominent Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji vowed Tuesday to keep up criticism of the hard-line regime in Tehran, saying he feared he might be sent back to jail but that he was determined to keep up the struggle for freedom.
"I will go back to Iran and I might be imprisoned again. This is the cost that you have to pay for democracy and human rights," he said.
The situation in Iran has worsened significantly since the election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ganji said. He complained of harsh censorship of journalists, a ban on publication of books that would have been released under the previous, reformist government and state pressure against dissidents, students and professors.
"The situation is getting tighter. Now the conservatives and the radicals have got full control," said Ganji, an investigative reporter who was in Moscow to accept the Golden Pen of Freedom of Award from the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editor Forum.
Ganji was released from prison in March after serving more than six years during which he spent much of the time in solitary confinement, suffered torture and carried out two hunger strikes. It had not been clear whether he would be permitted to leave Iran, but he arrived in Moscow on Friday.
The Iranian dissident criticized the government in Tehran for its secrecy over the country's controversial nuclear program - which the West fears is a cover for a drive to acquire the atomic bomb although Iran insists it is purely for peaceful energy purposes.
"The Iranian people have a right to know what is going on," he said.
Ganji said, however, that he did not support US pressure on Iran, and noted that other regional powers including Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel had atomic weapons. For his part, he said, he would prefer to see a nuclear weapons-free world.
Ganji had angered Iran's ruling clerics with a series of articles accusing Intelligence Ministry agents of killing five dissidents and calling for the end of absolute rule by a top cleric - currently supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Intelligence Ministry blamed the murders on "rogue agents" within the secret service. But Ganji's articles said the killings were ordered by senior hard-liners in the ruling Islamic establishment, including former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian. Fallahian has denied any involvement.
Ganji's imprisonment coincided with a media crackdown by hard-liners against the reformist media. Iran's hard-line judiciary has closed down more than 100 pro-democracy publications in the past five years, including the papers Ganji wrote for.
The dissident was arrested in 2000 after participating in a conference in Berlin in which political and social reform in Iran were publicly discussed. When he was released on March 18, he weighed only 48 kilograms (108 pounds).
He said that despite the strength of the Iranian regime, the Internet still provided an outlet for freedom of expression through blogs, and people used mobile phones to send text messages to each other with political jokes about taboo subjects.
"The communications revolution makes dictatorship impossible," he said.