March 19, 2006


Iranian Dissident Released From Jail: Defiant Journalist's Criticism of Ruling Clerics Remains Untempered (Karl Vick, 3/19/06, Washington Post)

Iran's most prominent dissident emerged from prison looking far older than his 46 years. His clothes hung on a frame reduced to 108 pounds by repeated hunger strikes. He smiled through a beard grown to the bushy nimbus of a Hindu holy man.

"All the time I was in prison was illegal," Akbar Ganji said of the six-year sentence he served for exposing the government's role in assassinating its critics. "From the very first day it was illegal."

Ganji's incarceration ended at 10 p.m. Friday, when Iranian security services dropped him unannounced at his family's apartment in northwest Tehran. The homecoming, which blossomed Saturday morning into a celebratory news conference as word of his release spread, was a rare moment of cheer for Iranian activists who have been steadily steered to the sidelines by the clerics who regulate Iran's politics from powerful, appointive offices. [...]

In 1999, thousands of Iranians marched in the streets to express their outrage at the assassination of dissidents in their homes. Ganji went to prison in 2000 for writing about the killings, but public support for reforms continued to grow. The demonstrations, along with landslide elections of a reformist president and parliament, checked the power of conservatives who insisted that a hard line was essential to protect Iran's theocratic system after the death of its charismatic founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

But by 2004, conservatives had regained the upper hand, relieving pressure for social freedoms by greatly relaxing enforcement of laws on personal behavior while steadily reducing the maneuvering room of political reformers and publications that supported them. [...]

Emad Baghi, who like Ganji was jailed for writing about what were known as the "serial murders," served only half of the same sentence. During the extra three years Ganji remained inside as a beacon of defiance, Baghi began a newspaper and, after it was banned, a human rights organization.

"I believe both of the approaches are important for us," said Saeed Bostani, a reporter who worked for Baghi and was jailed for seven months for reporting Ganji's deteriorating medical condition.

"When I was in prison, I believed in Mr. Ganji's approach that refuses to compromise, just go all out," Bostani said. "But since I came out into society, I think Mr. Baghi's approach has merit, that we can put pressure on the state and make changes."

Neither avenue is free of risk. Two of Baghi's associates were jailed for a month by security officials suspicious of their attendance at a human rights workshop in Dubai last year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 19, 2006 9:46 AM

Two of Baghi's associates were jailed for a month by security officials suspicious of their attendance at a human rights workshop in Dubai last year.

Is that the usual behavior of cultures and govenments allied with al Qaeda, that they host human rights workshops ?

Another clue that the UAE might be the real deal, and not just building a Western-friendly facade.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 19, 2006 9:03 PM

Mr. Herdegen;

Yes, that's standard behavior. See the UN Human Rights Council and the infamous Durban anti-racism conference for example.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at March 20, 2006 10:37 AM