Op-Ed: A Dying Man's Cry for Freedom in Iran

By Max Boot
Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2005

The headlines out of Tehran concern the predictable failure of yet another round of farcical negotiations designed to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, a much more dramatic story is unfolding with much less attention.

Investigative journalist Akbar Ganji has been on a hunger strike since June 11 to protest his unwarranted imprisonment over the last five years for the crime of criticizing the theocratic thugs who have hijacked his country. Recently, he has been moved from prison to a hospital, where he is said to be at death's door. His condition is so perilous that even his advocate - lawyer and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi - has urged him to end his fast, but he has so far refused. Having lost a great deal of weight, he is apparently being kept alive only by intravenous fluids.

Ganji deserves to become as famous as Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi and other dissidents who put their lives on the line against injustice. Yet, while Ganji's mistreatment has been protested by the U.S. and by every major international human rights organization, the only U.S. newspaper regularly covering his ordeal is the tiny New York Sun. According to LexisNexis, there have been more than 1,000 media mentions in the last month of Natalee Holloway, the teenager who disappeared in Aruba, and fewer than 400 of Ganji.

One could argue that the fate of one man doesn't matter much compared with the larger issue of whether Iran will go nuclear. But the two are intertwined. The reason why the United States and even the European Union are so concerned about Iran's weapons is the nature of its regime.

We don't worry much about India or Israel having nukes because they are democracies with internal checks and balances. There is little chance of either one slipping an atomic bomb to a terrorist group for detonation in New York or London.

The prospect of Iran getting nukes is much more frightening because it is ruled by unelected ayatollahs who have turned their state into the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. Indeed, according to media reports, Iran is providing advanced explosive devices that are being used against U.S. troops in Iraq. But Iran's worst crimes are not those committed against Iraq, the U.S., or any other nation; they are the crimes committed against its own people.

Nothing better typifies the barbarism of the mullahs than their mistreatment of Akbar Ganji. A onetime enthusiast for the 1979 Islamic revolution, Ganji became disenchanted. He wrote books and articles documenting how top-level officials ordered the murder of writers and dissidents.
He openly compared the Islamic Republic's ideology to that of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

From prison, Ganji has continued issuing statements calling on the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to leave office. He also urged Iranians to boycott the sham elections held in June that brought an Islamo-fascist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to power as president. Ganji has concluded that there is no way to change this "sultanate" from within; he advocates civil disobedience to bring about secular democracy.

"I will not stand the master-slave relationship, the kind of relationship in which the Leader ascends to the ranks of a god and people descend to the level of slaves," Ganji wrote from prison in a "Letter to the Free World" (posted online at www.freeganji.blogspot.com).

He has also defiantly refused to renounce his critique of the state, even if it could win his release. "Let it be known that if learning my lesson is to denounce my previous opinions," Ganji wrote, "Ganji will never learn his lesson."

When the Protestant martyr Hugh Latimer was burned at the stake by the Catholic Queen Mary ("Bloody Mary") in 1555, he boldly proclaimed: "We shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God's grace shall never be put out." Ganji's public letter of July 10 ends with an echo of Latimer's words: "This candle is about to die out, but this voice will raise louder voices in its wake."

It is up to the free world to make sure that the cry of freedom - Akbar Ganji's cry - is not extinguished in Iran.

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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