The cheerless creatures who rule the Islamic republic of Iran have developed a particularly wicked use of torture. Not only do they use the full panoply of physical and psychological horrors on their captives, but they then send the victims back into their homes and neighborhoods for brief periods of “parole” or “medical leave,” so that their friends and families can see with their own eyes the brutal effects of the torture. The clear intent of this practice is to intimidate the population at large, to break the will of would-be dissenters and opponents, and to maximize the effects of the victims themselves, for the brief respite from the pain of the prisons is mercilessly accompanied by the certainty that the agony will soon resume.
Thus, when a victim uses his time outside the torture chambers to call for the people of Iran to act against the regime, it warrants our attention. If the West had leaders willing to openly challenge the mullahs, or if the organizations who pretend to champion “human rights” were worthy of their own mission statements, we would know the names of these brave Iranians, and we would give them, and the Iranian people more broadly, the kind of support they deserve.
One of the most prominent dissenters and a distinguished journalist, Akbar Ganji, was given a week-long “medical leave” from Evin Prison in Tehran, and on Monday he gave an Internet interview that may well prove fatal. He called for a general boycott of the “make believe elections” for the presidency, scheduled for the 17th of the month, and urged the Iranian people to engage in large-scale civil disobedience.
“We are faced with a personal dictatorship, the dictatorship of (Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei,” he said. “Khamenei has ruled for fifteen years and wants to rule for life. I oppose this and I say that this contradicts democracy.” Ganji called for Khamenei himself to submit his dictatorial rule to a public ratification. “He must take part in a free election, should the people vote him in he can rule and should they reject him he must step aside.”
Following the interview the head of the Evin Prison announced that Akbar Ganji had to return at once.
You will not have read about this brave man in your daily newspaper, or seen his face on your evening news broadcast, nor will you have heard about him from the Department of State--which has a considerable bureaucracy devoted to the advancement of human rights--nor from the White House, nor from the self-promoting entrepreneurs of the likes of Human Rights Watch or the intellectuals and elected representatives who call for President Bush to “talk to” the mullahs in order to “resolve our disagreements.” Nor has anyone heard much about the public appeal from the Women’s Movement of Iran for a demonstration at Tehran University this coming Sunday--a declaration signed by 27 organizations.
But the Iranian people know what is happening, and they are trying, once again, to call our attention to their plight. A “Food Hunger Strike Committee” has been formed in Tehran, calling for a boycott of the elections, and for the release of political prisoners. The committee has declared election day a fast day for the people of Iran. Elsewhere, the country’s largest student group, the Office of Student Unity, branded the elections “devoid of any significance,” and called for the people to abstain.
The mullahs are greatly annoyed at the uppity behavior of the people, and have insisted that everyone vote. They badly want to be able to tell the world that they are a legitimate government (or better yet, in the infamous words of former Deputy of State Armitage, “a democracy”), and a low turnout would give the lie to that claim. A few days ago, the administrators of the Free Islamic College in Roudan (near the capital) offered free rice and kebabs to anyone who showed up for a rally for Hashemi Rafsanjani, the man who would be president again. But very few attended, and no students or professors came at all. The regime has intensified its jamming of foreign broadcasts, and the major cities are now blanketed with microwave transmissions the mullahs hope will prevent the people hearing calls from the diaspora to stay away from the voting booths on election day.
Meanwhile, six political prisoners in Karaj Prison have started their second week on hunger strikes, and eight others have joined them. Three other political prisoners--Taghi Rahmani, Mehdi Saber, and Reza-Ali Jani--smuggled a letter out of prison, addressed to outgoing “reformist” President Khatami, declaring that they have been savagely tortured. Rahmani said he had been held in solitary confinement for 134 days, and the others described humiliations I do not care to repeat here.
We are now nine days from the sham elections, and still no Western leader has had the integrity to proclaim that the “elections” are a fraud, and they seem to have forgotten that the regime itself is the keystone of the terror network. Instead, our government maintains a pious silence on the matter, evidently more afraid of being accused of undermining the efforts of the French, German, and British governments to arrive at a satisfactory agreement with Iran on the matter of the mullahs’ impending atomic bomb.
They do not wish to acknowledge that if Iran were free, we would not have to fear its weapons, because the Iranian people wish to live peacefully, in alliance with us. Moreover, with the Iranian keystone destroyed, the terror war against us would be gravely weakened, and our currently stalled support for democratic revolution would receive a much needed infusion of credibility.
Continued silence and inaction on Iran are shameful and cowardly, unworthy of any serious nation, let alone the world’s lone superpower. People are dying every day, above all in Iran and in Iraq, because we refuse to come to grips with Iran. Many of these are our own children.
Hello? Can we get this show on the road, please?
Michael A. Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at AEI.