Tuesday, July 19, 2005

If Ganji Dies'

The Wall Street Journal, Review & Outlook:

On Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, now in the 39th day of a hunger strike in Tehran's Evin Prison, Kofi Annan has this to say: "I have not enough information on this case and, thus, cannot comment on it."

Well, it's good to know the U.N. Secretary General is on the case. President Bush had more to say last week, demanding Mr. Ganji's immediate release and adding, "Mr. Ganji, please know that as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you." READ MORE

A journalist by trade, Mr. Ganji was arrested in 1997 for giving a lecture on "the theoretical foundations of Fascism," for which he spent three months in prison. Three years later, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attending a Berlin conference deemed "anti-revolutionary" and "anti-Islamic" by the Iranian authorities. An appellate court reduced Mr. Ganji's sentence to six months, but Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi intervened to impose a six-year sentence on other charges, such as his possession of photocopied foreign newspapers.

As a prisoner, Mr. Ganji has been every bit as nettlesome to the mullahs as he was as a free man. His "Republican Manifesto," first published in 2002 and released in expanded form last May, called on his fellow citizens to boycott the country's sham elections as a way of achieving genuine democracy. During his current hunger strike, Mr. Ganji has written two letters addressed "to all free people," which can be found in English translation at http://freeganji.blogspot.com. Allow us to quote:

"Let it be known that if learning my lesson is to denounce my previous opinions, Ganji will never learn his lesson. ... Today my broken face is the true face of the system in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I am now the symbol of justice. The justice that, if viewed correctly, puts on display the full extent of the oppression of the rulers of the Islamic Republic. ...

"Mortazavi has told my wife: 'What will happen if Ganji dies? Dozens die every day in prisons; Ganji will just be one of them.' These are [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei's words that are uttered through Mortazavi's lips.

"Ganji dies, but the demand for freedom, democracy, political justice, hope, aspirations and ideals won't."

In different times, these words could have been written by Natan Sharansky in the Soviet Union, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Armando Valladares in Cuba, or Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Birmingham jail cell. It is remarkable how the experience of political oppression is always the same, wherever it takes place. Remarkable, too, is how similar are the aspirations of the oppressed: freedom, democracy, political justice, hope.

However, right now the task that confronts people who care about freedom is not to admire Mr. Ganji's prose but to save his life. Mr. Bush and several members of Congress have taken notice, and maybe Mr. Annan and the European ministers who meet regularly with their Iranian counterparts can bother themselves to get "enough information" as well. Because if they don't, prosecutor Mortazavi's question, "what will happen if Ganji dies?" will have been answered.