Saturday, July 23, 2005

A hunger strike in Iran

The Globe and Mail:
The Iranian capital, Tehran, has a street named after Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army militant who starved himself to death in a British prison in 1981. Iran's radical Islamic regime honoured the IRA man for his resistance to what it saw as British imperialism. When hunger strikes are turned against Tehran, though, it seems the regime feels rather differently. READ MORE

It has condemned journalist Akbar Ganji for staging a hunger strike in Tehran's Evin prison, accusing him of pointless grandstanding and calling hunger strikes "counter to religious principles." Leave aside the fact that this same regime smiles upon Palestinians who blow themselves up on the streets of Israel (starving yourself is a sin, but killing innocent bystanders isn't?). A regime that accuses Western countries of having a double standard about human rights can hardly praise a hunger strike against Britain as a noble gesture while at the same time denouncing a local hunger striker as an unredeemed sinner. As Iranian human-rights campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi puts it, "Isn't illegitimatizing the hunger strike of Iranian political dissidents a clear example of such a double standard?"

That, and much more. Mr. Ganji has been on a hunger strike for five weeks in an attempt to pressure authorities to release him from his cruel and unwarranted imprisonment. He was sentenced to six years in 2001 after writing articles that accused the regime of having a role in the killing of leading Iranian writers and intellectuals. Since he stopped taking solid food, subsisting instead on water and sugar cubes, he has lost more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms). On Thursday, his family said his health had deteriorated sharply since he was taken to hospital last weekend. Judicial officials said he had been admitted for knee surgery, much as they said in 2003 that Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi had died after falling down and hitting her head while imprisoned. It turned out she was beaten to death. The fact is that Mr. Ganji is very ill and perhaps near death.

If he were to die, there would be an outcry around the world. Like the murder of Ms. Kazemi, his strike has shone a spotlight on injustice under the Iranian theocracy. The regime has closed more than 100 reformist newspapers and magazines over the past five years on charges of spreading blasphemy or insulting (that is to say, criticizing) religious authorities. The charge against Mr. Ganji was "harming national security," a vague statute that is used against anyone who questions the regime.

The European Union has called for his release. So has U.S. President George W. Bush, who told him that "as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you." Prime Minister Paul Martin should add his voice to those speaking up for Mr. Ganji.

Once in a while, regimes such as Iran's come up against an opponent so uncompromising, so morally tough, that they don't know what to do with him. Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky was one such person; so was Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng; so is Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Akbar Ganji is one of their number. He deserves the whole world's support.
Seems Ganji campaign against the regime is now catching world media's attention