Monday, April 17, 2006

Ganji Is Summoned Back to Iranian Prison But He Is Refusing To Obey the Request

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
Iran's judiciary has summoned dissident leader Akbar Ganji back to Evin Prison after releasing him on March 18 in what his lawyers said marked the end of his original sentence. But so far Mr. Ganji has refused to obey the requests from the prosecutors who originally threw him in jail.

His supporters said last night that Mr. Ganji would face new charges that have been threatened against him, and that he would certainly not leave Iran. READ MORE

The fate of Mr. Ganji, who was jailed for attending a reform conference in Germany and publishing a book that accused top regime officials of playing a role in a string of political murders in the late 1990s, is intertwined with the liberal opposition movement of which he has emerged a leader.

A reformist author who was loyal to Ayatollah Khomeinei, Mr. Ganji has boldly broken with his old colleagues and in a series of open letters from jail last summer, he called on the supreme leader of Iran to step aside or run for elected office.

Inside the country, his cause has rallied support from both the student movements and ethnic minorities like the Iranian Kurds, who issued statements in solidarity with his hunger strike last July and August. Abroad, Mr. Ganji can count President Bush, the leaders of the European Union, Secretary-General Annan, and intellectuals from both right and left as his supporters.

Iran's official news service on Monday and Tuesday carried quotes from the deputy prosecutor for prison affairs, Mahmoud Salarkia, saying that Mr. Ganji was due back at Evin Prison on March 25, and that his original release, celebrated by his supporters as the end of his term, was in fact only a one-week leave granted to coincide with the Persian new year, Nowruz.

A lawyer for Mr. Ganji issued a statement on Monday saying: "Akbar Ganji has been released according to the laws and his presence outside of prison is not against the law, nor the regulations, and he is out of prison accordingly."

While Mr. Ganji has yet to be sentenced for additional crimes against the state, and his remaining jail time would be negligible, the regime nonetheless has threatened to bring new charges against him.

Iran's courts are still weighing charges brought in connection with Mr. Ganji's decision to publish his two-part manifesto, a document that calls for the end of the appointed clerics that wield the real power in Tehran and for the supreme leader to stand for election. The manifesto also outlines a political strategy based on the principles of nonviolent conflict advocated by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

Despite being placed in solitary confinement, denied regular access to his family, threatened by violent inmates and even beatings, Mr. Ganji appears not to be broken - for now. At a party in Tehran on March 19 celebrating his release, Mr. Ganji told Iranian and Western reporters, "My views have not changed at all. Jail and pressures never forced me to change my views. Today, I'm more determined to say what I said six years ago."

A former executive committee member of Tahkim Vahdat, Iran's largest student organization, Ali Afshari said yesterday that based on his contacts in Iran among Mr. Ganji's supporters, he believes Mr. Ganji will not flee the country.

"He is a hero and has many people around him," he said. "Based on my personal knowledge of Mr. Ganji's personality and commitment to a transparent political position, I doubt he will ever leave Iran and I think he will stay."

Mr. Afshari added that there was no technical warrant for his arrest, but if there were, he believes Mr. Ganji would abide by the law and "deal with his situation in the most transparent manner." Mr. Afshari left Iran last October to study at the University of Dublin. He arrived in America in February and is now continuing his studies in Texas.

However, another American-based Iranian human rights activist yesterday said that by not returning to jail, Mr. Ganji was taking a brave stance in the tradition of civil disobedience.

"This is part of his civil disobedience," Ramin Ahmedi said yesterday. "He will not obey the unjust order. But he has proved that he is willing to pay that price. I think he does communicate a message to people around him by refusing to go. These are the small first acts of building that movement. "

Mr. Ahmedi said yesterday that Mr. Ganji's task now was to use his leadership to build and sustain a civil rights movement in Iran. "He has emerged as a leader. He is extremely popular among the activists from all parts of the spectrum. You have a leader and he has to build that movement."