Interview: Journalist Says Liberty Prize Belongs To All Iranians Fighting For Democracy
WASHINGTON -- Akbar Ganji is a prominent Iranian journalist and writer who was
jailed in the Islamic republic for six years because of his criticism of the
Iranian establishment, his exposure of a state role in the assassination of
dissidents, and his efforts toward advancing democracy in Iran.
Akbar Ganji, Iranian journalist and political
activist, said the prize is "moral support" for Iran's opposition.
On May 13, Ganji's work is to be rewarded at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.,
where he is to receive the Cato Institute's biennial Milton Friedman Prize for
Ahead of the ceremony, RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and Radio Farda
broadcaster Mohammad Zarghami met with Ganji, who told them in an exclusive
interview that his prize belongs to all those fighting for democracy in Iran.
RFE/RL: What is the significance of this award and other similar awards
and prizes for Iran's democracy movement?
Akbar Ganji: Fortunately, in recent years different NGOs and civic
organizations have honored many Iranians who are fighting for human rights. It
is a kind of moral support for the movement. Most of these prizes are not
financial [eds.: the Milton Friedman Prize is a $500,000 cash prize].
For example, in 2006 I was awarded a prize for freedom of expression [the John
Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award] at the same institute in which we are now
speaking [the National Press Club]. It didn't include any financial help, it was
a picture that you can see on the wall.
These [awards] all contribute to moral support showing that the [Iranian] regime
is condemned as a violator of human rights, and that those who are fighting for
liberty, for human rights and freedom of expression receive support. This is not
moral support for [just me]. If I'm being given such an award it's because of
the Green Movement. This prize, in fact, belongs to all of those who are
fighting [for democracy] inside the country, for those who are in jail. And I
hope to be active for the same [cause]."
being given such an award it's because of the
RFE/RL: After you were released from prison in 2006 and left Iran you
told RFE/RL that you would return to Iran. It's been six years now. Are you
still hoping to be able to return in the near future?
Ganji: It's a daily wish of all Iranians living abroad to be able to go
back to their country one day. But predicting [the time ] is very difficult. You
either have to be God or his prophet and I'm neither one. I'm an ordinary person
and it is still my wish to return to Iran. It's the wish of every Iranian. It's
our country, and we all have to go there.
RFE/RL: You fought for human rights and democracy in Iran for years and
you paid a heavy price. Do you feel you can be as effective now that you are
outside the country?
Ganji: There is, of course, a big difference between fighting [for
democracy] inside and outside the country. The goals might be the same but the
real fight takes place inside the country. You need a social movement for the
transition toward democracy, and you cannot create a movement from outside the
But even when you're outside, you can transfer the message of the movement to
the outside world. You can help those inside, you can inform -- there are many
things that can be done. It's not black and white, it's colorful. And just as
the movement is colorful the fight is also colorful. Any ways that are morally
defendable must be used to fight the Iranian regime.
RFE/RL: You said that the Iranian people and the opposition movement do
not support the principle of "velayat faqih," the rule of the supreme jurist.
Ataollah Mohajerani, who was culture minister under former reformist President
Mohammad Khatami, has been quoted as saying in a newspaper interview that the
Green Movement supports velayat faqih. What is your reaction to his comments?
And is he a spokesman of the Green Movement?
Ganji: Everyone is free to express his or her opinion and no one can
claim that he is the spokesman of the movement. [Opposition leader Mir Hossein
Musavi] has clearly said that the movement does not have a spokesperson outside
the country. Musavi has always said that all Iranians are the spokespeople of
The movement doesn't belong to anyone. It doesn't have an owner, and anyone can
express himself or herself. When I speak here, I'm expressing my personal views.
But I think I have a role in the movement as one individual, like any other
Iranian. Naturally, as Musavi said, every Iranian is the spokesman of the
movement. I can also in these general terms be the spokesman of the movement.
There are different interpretations: Iran's population is young, we have about
50 million people under the age of 35 and for me it's not acceptable at all that
this young generation would accept anything like velayat faqih. The behavior of
this generation is such that the regime is cracking down on it and repressing it
all the time. Their lifestyle, the way they dress, the food they eat, the way
they rest, everything -- where in this new generation can one see anything that
would be in line with the establishment? I don't think at all that the people of
Iran are in favor of velayat faqih.
People's views are respectful and they are free to express their views, and we
can debate each other. I can demonstrate that the number of those who want
politics and government to be separated from religion is much, much, much
greater than those who support this regime.
RFE/RL: Do you think that the Green Movement's lack of a centralized
leadership and designated spokesman outside the country -- combined with the
different voices coming from within the movement -- can be confusing for
supporters and others?
Ganji: No, not at all. The movement is shaping up gradually, meaning
that as the movement continues, it will have a stabilized leadership and we need
time. It's not to our benefit for this regime to collapse today. You need an
experienced democratic force that will be able to replace the regime.
The experience with the 1979 revolution should not be repeated, where a
dictatorship worse than the current one comes to power. We need this to
continue. We need [opposition figures] to express their views and stances very
clearly. I can't say, for example, [one thing] tonight, another thing tomorrow,
and something else another day. As time passes people will show their true
Copyright (c) 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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