Monday, July 24, 2006

Iran activist 'snubs White House'

Daryoush Homaee, BBC News:
Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji declined to meet White House officials during a visit to the US, he has told the BBC.

Mr Ganji said he had been invited to discuss the current situation in Iran. The White House declined to comment. READ MORE

He said he rejected the offer because he believed current US policies could not help promote democracy in Iran.

In a speech last week in Washington DC, he also criticised US policy in Iraq, saying: "You cannot bring democracy to a country by attacking it".

He added that the war in Iraq had helped Islamic fundamentalism and hampered the democracy movement in the region.

A group of Iranian dissidents met State Department official Nicholas Burns and Elliot Abrams, an adviser to the National Security Council, while Mr Ganji was in Washington last week.

Mr Ganji said he believed such meetings would undermine the credibility of the Iranian opposition.

However, Mr Ganji added that if Iranian opposition were united and they had a recognised leadership, they could negotiate with US officials to find the best ways of helping promote democracy and human rights in Iran.

Hunger strike

He said he was in the United States not as a leader of Iran's democracy movement, but as a journalist who wanted to draw international attention to the plight of people in Iranian jails.

The highlight of Mr Ganji's visit to the United States was a three-day hunger strike in front of United Nations headquarters in New York.

Mr Ganji had staged a hunger strike for several weeks when he was in Iran's notorious Evin prison in Tehran.

He was joined in his New York protest by tens of other Iranians who went on strike to campaign against what they called the arbitrary detention of political activists and intellectuals in Iran.

His American visit coincides with renewed pressure on Iran for its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and its rejection of calls to stop uranium enrichment.

In a speech at Washington's Georgetown University, he said he believed Iran's nuclear programme was not in its national interest.

Mr Ganji was arrested in 2000 after returning from a conference in Berlin.

He was accused of having "damaged national security" and sentenced to six years in jail.

In July 2005, President Bush called on Iran to release Mr Ganji "immediately and unconditionally".

He was released in March 2006, in poor health as a result of his lengthy hunger strike against prison conditions.

On Monday, Mr Ganji delivered a speech in New York to a gathering organised by the International Pen Association, which campaigns for writers' freedom.

He says he will return to Iran once he finishes his tour of the US and Europe.