Iran: Dissident Journalist Urges Accountability At Home, Restraint Abroad
By Golnaz Esfandiari
PRAGUE, 6 June, 2006 (RFE/RL) --
Iranian journalist and rights activist Akbar Ganji continued his current
international tour with an appeal for greater openness and accountability from
officials in Tehran. But while he vowed to maintain his battle against abuses at
home, he warned international critics that they should not seek to impose their
will on Iran.
Akbar Ganji at his June 6 news conference (RFE/RL)
Akbar Ganji told journalists in Moscow today that he is determined to
keep up his struggle for "democracy and human rights," and that "I will return
to Iran, [and] I will continue to express my critical views regarding all
Ganji spent the past six years in prison for articles
implicating senior Iranian officials in the deaths of intellectuals and
dissidents. He was released in March, and was in Russia to accept the
World Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom
Ganji has challenged the legitimacy of Iran's
Islamic establishment. He has also said that democracy cannot be achieved under
the country's current political system.
Today he conceded that he might well face
imprisonment again, but he called it the price one must pay "for democracy,
freedom, and human rights." He also suggested that other critics of the Iranian
establishment have been under even greater pressure than he has.
"I don't have much to say about my prison term, because in Iran there are
people who faced a worse situation than me," Ganji said. "Some of our
intellectuals were murdered in an organized manner; some were murdered in
prisons. My dear friend, [journalist Said] Hajarian is now paralyzed as a result
of an assassination attempt. Several million Iranians have been forced into
exile -- they live in Europe and America. I think they have paid a heavier price
He is clearly unafraid of wading into the political thick of things --
or of adopting controversial stances. Asked about the international dispute over
Iran's nuclear program, Ganji called it the duty of all intellectuals to oppose
the "militarization" of the world, although it might seem a "far-fetched"
He said intellectuals should also condemn governments that
move in that direction.
"I'm not an official with secret
information or knowledge of who is telling the truth [about the nuclear issue],"
Ganji said. "As a journalist, not only do I not support Iran having nuclear
weapons, but I also want other countries that have atomic weapons to be
disarmed. By no means do we want a confrontation between Iran, the West, and the
U.S. We journalists and intellectuals bring the voice of peace from Iran to the
world. And we also believe that the Iranian government should be
Ganji argued that Iranian officials -- first
and foremost -- should be forthcoming toward their fellow citizens. Iranians
have a right to know what is going on with the nuclear issue, he
"Intellectuals and journalists and Iranians should have
the right to express their critical views regarding the government's nuclear
project," Ganji said. "Unfortunately, today in Iran, [authorities] do not allow
any [criticism] of the nuclear issue to be published. It is as if there were
only one voice in Iran regarding this issue, and that is the voice of the
government. But this is not the case; in fact, many of our intellectuals and
academics disagree with the government's nuclear policies."
the situation has worsened in recent months. He cited increased censorship of
journalists, book bans, and increased state pressure targeting
dissidents, academics, and students.
But he also stressed that his criticism of the
Iranian leadership does not translate into automatic support for actions against
"In any case, we should support our country," Ganji said. "I
am against the Iranian government and its policies. This is one thing. But it is
a different thing to call for the destruction of my own country. If a
confrontation like that in Iraq happens in Iran, it could ruin my country. No
Iranian desires such a thing. We oppose the Iranian government, and we fight
against it. But we will do it by ourselves. What we need is the moral support of
civil-society institutions around the world."
He went on to warn
that democracy cannot be imposed on his country by force. "We have to establish
democracy in Iran," Ganji said. "Democracy cannot be brought from outside. We
have to do our best -- [to] struggle to make our country democratic."
(RFE/RL Tajik Service Moscow correspondent Rasul Shodiev contributed to this
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