Friday, March 24, 2006

Iran's Icon

The Wall Street Journal:
Successful democratic revolutions tend to have iconic figures: Think of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Lech Walesa in Poland and Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine. These men not only led their movements to victory but also, through their personal suffering, become emblems of the suffering of their people.

In Iran, the iconic figure is Akbar Ganji, who on Friday was released from Tehran's Evin prison after serving a six-year sentence. Mr. Ganji first incurred the regime's wrath when, as a journalist in the late 1990s, he implicated former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the killing of dozens of opposition figures. From prison, which Mr. Ganji mainly spent in solitary confinement, he also wrote his "Republican Manifesto" calling for an end to clerical rule. That manifesto has become a bible of sorts to Iranian opposition groups, especially the politically potent student movement.

Last year, Mr. Ganji went on a three-month hunger strike, which nearly killed him but also brought international attention to his plight. In the end, the authorities were forced to keep him alive -- an implicit admission that the conscience and will of a single man could compel the regime's surrender. Now Mr. Ganji's wife speculates that the clerics want nothing more than to put the case behind them, in the hope that his influence will wane with the memory of his near-martyrdom.

They shouldn't count on it. "My views have not changed at all," a rail-thin but still defiant Mr. Ganji said upon his release. "Jail and pressures never forced me to change my views. Today, I'm more determined to say what I said six years ago."

Iranians will be listening. So should we.