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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Analysis: Iran's political prisoners
Akbar Ganji in court
Akbar Ganji exposed killings of intellectuals
By Jim Muir in Tehran

President Mohammad Khatami's plans for reform and change have been largely blocked by hardliners who still hold a lot of real power, though they do not win elections.


No nation can achieve its high aspirations without paying a heavy price

President Mohammad Khatami
The conservatives have demonstrated that power over the past year by closing reformist newspapers and arresting many liberal activists.

At the only major rally he addressed during the election campaign, Mr Khatami heard a chant that has often echoed around reformist gatherings - political prisoners must be freed.

A few days later, at his election press conference, Mr Khatami was asked about the dozens of reformist or liberal activists, many of them close to him, who have been arrested and jailed.


I know that the path I have chosen is playing with death. But I have prepared myself to pay that price. I believe that after any revolution, we will have to go through this if we are to achieve democracy

Political prisoner Akbar Ganji
"No nation can achieve its high aspirations without paying a heavy price," Mr Khatami said.

"As we are not used to democracy and freedom, some parts of the government may not be able to tolerate this free atmosphere and they react in an extreme or irrational way. This is the damage that is done within our society by a constant movement towards a democratic system, and some people with good intentions have been hurt."

Paying the price

Among those who are paying the price is the campaigning journalist Akbar Ganji.

His court appearance last November caused quite a stir as he claimed he had been maltreated in jail where he's been held for more than a year now. But his wife has made it clear he's willing to keep up the struggle.


Such tactics as parading prisoners on television to make confessions of dubious credibility are starting to look distinctly old-fashioned

"He has said he does not need any help from anybody. He says: 'I have chosen this path, I will continue and we will succeed. I see a very bright future. I know that the path I have chosen is playing with death. But I have prepared myself to pay that price. I believe that after any revolution, we will have to go through this if we are to achieve democracy,'" Mrs Ganji said in a statement.

Recently, after spending five months isolated in solitary confinement, the student leader Ali Afshari appeared on Iranian state television to make abject confessions.

His appearance was greeted with shock and disbelief by those who knew his ideas before his arrest last November.

'Plotting against the regime'

Izetolar Sahabib, a veteran member of the liberal, and formerly tolerated opposition, was arrested last November. He spent years in jail under the Shah.


Things have changed already to the extent that such issues are now out in the open. Relatives and friends are campaigning publicly to free the political prisoners

Now, more than 70-years-old, he is spending time behind the bars of the Islamic republic, accused of plotting to overthrow the regime.

But his daughter, speaking at a meeting with the families of other political prisoners, made it clear that these victims of the reform process have not lost their enthusiasm for Mr Khatami, the man on whom hopes for change are still pinned.

"We support Mr Khatami because we believe in him as an honest man, as a moral man. He joined religion and freedom together, so we support him and we think if they left him to work, there would be change. The change will not happen suddenly, but slowly and step by step, there will be a change," she said.

Things have changed already to the extent that such issues are now out in the open. Relatives and friends are campaigning publicly to free the political prisoners.

They may still be a long way to go. But already in today's climate, such tactics as parading prisoners on television to make confessions of dubious credibility are starting to look distinctly old-fashioned.

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See also:

15 May 01 | Middle East
Iran court cuts reformist's sentence
15 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iran sentences spark row
14 Jan 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Backlash gathers pace
13 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iranian reformers jailed
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