Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ganji's Next Strike Likely at U.N.

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
Iran's most famous opposition figure, Akbar Ganji, is due to arrive in New York on Saturday on a trip where he will lead a hunger strike in front of the United Nations and attend a meeting with the leftist MIT political science professor Noam Chomsky.

In his visit to America, however, Mr. Ganji will not be meeting with any American government officials. He is seeking an audience with Secretary-General Annan, who, when first asked by this newspaper his opinion of Mr. Ganji's hunger strike a year ago, did not know his name. In an attempt to stay above the fray of internecine Iranian émigré politics, Mr. Ganji is refusing to accept support from any formal Iranian political parties based in America.

Mr. Ganji's visit would have presented a chance for the Bush administration to show its commitment to Iran's secular democracy movement. Yesterday, the administration issued a press statement commemorating the July 9, 1999, Tehran University uprisings. READ MORE

But Mr. Ganji's refusal to meet with the administration, while holding court with one of the president's most virulent and partisan critics, sends a clear message to Iran's leading mullahs that many in the Iranian democratic opposition are not interested in the millions that Congress promised them earlier this year in a special appropriation.

A spokesman for the ad hoc committee arranging Mr. Ganji's visit to America, Mehdi Amini, said yesterday that the former reporter and political prisoner did not want to risk arrest upon his return to Iran. "He has said he is not willing to meet U.S. government officials. He plans to go to Iran and he does not want this to be a reason for the Iranians to rearrest him," Mr. Amini said.

Iran formally charged a Canadian Iranian professor, Ramin Jahanbegloo, this month with trying to foment a "velvet" or "soft" revolution in Iran by assisting a secular opposition supported by America. The professor was a scholar at the National Endowment for Democracy in 2004.

Part of Mr. Ganji's mission in America, Mr. Amini said, is to bring attention to political prisoners in Iran. Specifically, the hunger strike scheduled for this weekend will be to demand the release of the leader of a bus drivers' strike, Mansour Osanloo, Mr. Jahanbegloo, and a student activist, Ali Akbar Mosavi-Khoini.

Mr. Ganji first came to the attention of the White House last July when President Bush became the first world leader to urge Iran's supreme leader to release Mr. Ganji from Evin prison, where he went on a hunger strike that lasted nearly two months.

The former reformist writer attracted the attention of the Iranian authorities in 2000, when he published a book and series of articles accusing a former president, Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, of approving a string of murders of Iranian intellectuals. Mr. Ganji was sentenced to six years in jail for publishing this information and attending a reform conference in Berlin.

From prison, he published a two-part manifesto urging Iranians to withdraw their consent to be governed by the ruling clerics. During his hunger strike, Mr. Ganji wrote to numerous Iranian public figures, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whom he urged to step down as supreme leader.

While Mr.Ganji was on hunger strike last summer, Mr. Chomsky signed a petition urging his release. Mr. Chomsky then traveled to Lebanon this spring to meet with leaders of the Syrian-funded terrorist group Hezbollah, which Iran created in the early 1980s. The areas of southern Lebanon ruled by Hezbollah resemble the Shariah state Mr. Ganji is now dedicated to overturning in his native Iran.

Yesterday, one New York-based Iranian-American activist, Banafsheh Zand Bonazzi, said she was disappointed that Mr. Ganji was meeting with Mr. Chomsky. "Because he has been sitting in Iran and has not had to live with Noam Chomsky, he does not know what people like Chomsky do," she said. "He is looking at Chomsky as a hero worshipper, and that Chomsky no longer exists."

One reason for the visit is Mr. Ganji's interest in Western philosophy. His manifesto is laced with references to Karl Popper, the thinker who coined the concept of the open society. In Berlin last month, he met with a German liberal theorist, Jurgen Habermas.

Mr. Ganji's meeting schedule is contrary in spirit to that of Amir Abbas Fakhravar, a student activist who arrived in Washington in May and has since briefed reporters at the American Enterprise Institute, as well as State Department officials. Vice President Cheney's staff has scheduled a meeting with the student leader.