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Authorities arrest one of Akbar Ganji's lawyers

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has called on Iranian judicial authorities to explain why defence lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani has been secretly detained since 30 July 2005. Soltani is one of the lawyers representing imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji - now on the 52nd day of a hunger strike - and the family of photographer Zahra Kazemi, who died in police custody.

"Soltani's arrest will inevitably arouse suspicions as it comes at a very crucial moment," the organisation said. "If it is established that he was detained on a false pretext with the deliberate aim of removing him from the Ganji and Kazemi cases, it will show that these cases have upset sectors of the judiciary controlled by the ultra-conservatives."

A co-founder of the Centre for Advocates of Human Rights along with Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, Soltani was arrested at the behest of Tehran prosecutor Saïd Mortazavi, who was responsible for Ganji's conviction.

Soltani's arrest, which took place three days after a search of his home, was carried out by an unidentified group of armed men - possibly the agents of a revolutionary tribunal - who bundled him into a car and drove him away to an unknown location. At the time of his arrest, he was staging a sit-in at the Tehran Bar Association to protest an arrest warrant issued for him. Since then, Soltani has reportedly been held in a part of Evin prison - section 209 - reserved for intelligence purposes.

Soltani's arrest is likely to demoralise not only Ganji but also his other lawyers, who now also face the possibility of arrest. "If lawyers are treated like this, no one will be prepared any more to defend people accused of political or ideological crimes," Ebadi noted.

As a member of the Centre for Advocates of Human Rights, Soltani is also one of the lawyers acting in the case of Kazemi, the photojournalist with dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship who died in custody two years ago. The case is once again before an Iranian court and Soltani's arrest is also likely to unsettle all the lawyers trying to shed light on her death.

Iranian judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad claimed that Soltani was arrested in the case of "nuclear spies" for whom he has been acting. Soltani has talked about "confidential issues of nuclear spies inside and outside the country," Karimi-Rad alleged.

Iran last year announced the arrest of a dozen people on suspicion of spying on Iran's nuclear programme for the United States and Israel. The detainees have since been referred to as "nuclear spies."

Akbar Ganji's 52nd day on hunger strike

Against his will, Ganji was put on a drip at his wife's request on 29 July. He later refused it. Despite his deteriorating state of health, he continues to post virulent attacks against the government on the Internet, which many observers think may be undermining his chances of being released.

Ganji has so far refused to request his release himself, as required by Iranian law. At the same time, his lawyers have been unable to visit him for several days in order to try to persuade him to change his mind.

Ayatollah Sharoudi, the head of the Iranian judiciary, said on 31 July that Ganji alone was responsible for his current plight. Sharoudi previously refused to relieve Mortazavi of responsibility for the case.

Despite appeals from the international community and former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hachemi Rafsandjani, judicial authorities have so far rejected any possibility of an early release for Ganji.

Meanwhile, RSF has also condemned the 25 July arrest of another journalist, Masoud Bastani, a correspondent for several reformist newspapers, including "Etemad", "Toseeh" and "Joumhoryat", who has written extensively on Ganji's plight. Bastani is being held at Teheran's Evin prison, where he has not been allowed to receive visitors. He is facing transfer to a prison in Arak, central Iran, where he would be detained with common-law prisoners.

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