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IFEX members have welcomed the news that Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji has been released from prison, but they caution that the outspoken dissident could be sent back to jail at any time. Ganji became a free man on 17 March 2006 after serving a six-year sentence.

Iranian judicial officials initially said that Ganji would be released on 30 March but later offered no explanation for why he was released earlier.

Ganji was imprisoned for writing investigative articles in the now defunct newspaper "Sobh-eEmrooz" that implicated top officials in the 1998 killings of several dissidents and intellectuals. In 2001, he was convicted of "collecting confidential state documents to jeopardize state security" and "spreading propaganda." Ganji says he was tortured during his imprisonment.

The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has invited Ganji to Moscow in June to accept the Golden Pen of Freedom award for his "outstanding contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom." The organisation is urging Iranian authorities to allow the journalist to attend the conference.

While news of Ganji's release has been welcomed, IFEX members say many of his colleagues remain in prison in Iran. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says at least nine journalists are in jail. Two bloggers are also serving prison sentences.

According to Human Rights Watch's 2006 annual report, Iranian authorities have systematically suppressed freedom of expression since April 2000, when the government launched a campaign to crack down on reform-minded newspapers and journalists.

Consequently, very few independent dailies remain, and those that do censor themselves heavily. Many writers and intellectuals have left the country, are in prison, or have ceased to be critical. The government also systematically blocks websites with political news and analysis from inside Iran and abroad.

Visit these links:

- WAN:
- International PEN:
- IPI:
- CPJ:
- CPJ Report on Iran:
- RSF:
- RSF Report on Iran:
- Human Rights Watch:
- Freedom House:

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