Thursday, July 21, 2005

Putting a name to the fight for freedom

As the debate about what is and is not moderate or extreme Islam continues and becomes more ferocious, as various extremely ignorant people like Hizonner the Mayor of LondON make ever more ridiculous pronouncements (as far as I can make it out Our Ken thinks it is all the fault of Lawrence of Arabia), the need to show solidarity with the fighters for freedom within the Muslim world becomes more acute.

It is, however, very difficult to show solidarity unless there is a name, a face, a personality. Stalin’s millions of victims made less impact in the West than one single personality like Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky or Vladimir Bukovsky.

We do, in fact, have a name and his face (before the gaolers of Iran had a go at him) was published in today’s Wall Street Journal Europe. He is Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist, who has just been rushed into hospital on the 40th day of his hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison.

This is how the newspaper sums up the saga of Ganji:

“A journalist by trade, Mr Ganji was arrested in 1997 for giving a lecture on “the theoretical foundations of fascism”, for which he spent three months in prison. Three years later, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attending a Berlin conference deemed “anti-revolutionary” and “anti-Islamic” by the Iranian authorities. An appellate court reduced Mr Ganji’s sentence to six months, but Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi intervened to impose a six-year sentence on other charges, such as his possession of photocopied foreign newspapers.”
Oh my. How it takes me back to the years of Soviet dissidents who were imprisoned for having copies of forbidden material (not photocopies as these were banned but typed and re-typed ones).

Mr Ganji has been active in prison. He produced a “Republican Manifesto” in 2002 and expanded it last May. In it he called on Iranians to boycott the recent sham elections in order to achieve genuine democracy.

His trenchant musings on freedom can be found in English on a special blog devoted to him and his writings. Clearly, somewhere there are other equally courageous people, whose names we do not know, who smuggle Ganji’s writings out, copy them, translate them and publish them on the net.

President Bush has spoken up for him as has the organization Journalists Without Borders. They have also called on the 25 EU foreign ministers and Javier Solana to pusue the case.

There seems to be some problem with the UN. GenSec Kofi Annan (father of Kojo of the food-for-oil scandal) has announced:

“I have not enough information on this case and, thus, cannot comment on it.”
The things SecGen Annan has no information on beggars belief. Since the information is readily available, would it be too much to ask him or someone close to him to spend some time reading it up?

And what happened to Solana? He is endlessly making statements about all sorts of things but try as I might, I cannot find any evidence that he has called for the release of Mr Ganji.

What of the foreign ministers of the three countries that have been conducting “a constructive dialogue” with the Iranian mullahs over nuclear matters for several years, getting nowhere fast? In matters of human rights, one of those European values that is supposed to be the basis of the common foreign and security policy, the representatives of Britain, France and Germany have resembled the three monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil about the nastiness of the Iranian regime.

As I said above, Mr Ganji, the name and face of the fight for freedom, has been rushed to hospital though neither his family nor his lawyer are allowed to visit him.

Interestingly to those of us who maintain that intellectual oppression will become more and more difficult as the internet becomes more powerful, this is what Reporters Without Borders said on May 30:
“Pressure from international organizations, and from bloggers and other Internet users who have been constantly relaying developments about Ganji's state of health, almost certainly played a key role in this decision by the Iranian authorities.”
The decision being to release Mr Ganji temporarily for treatment.

The EU is said to have added its protests. But where and when? Whispering quietly in rooms behind locked doors?

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