Monday, July 17, 2006

Iran's most prominent dissident, Journalist Akbar Ganji: War not helping democracy push

Yahoo! News
Iranian: War not helping democracy push
By BRADLEY BROOKS, Associated Press Writer

Iran's most prominent dissident said Sunday that the war in Iraq has hurt his country's reform movement by giving its regime an excuse to stifle dissent.

Journalist Akbar Ganji said in an interview that the West can best promote change in Iran by lending moral support to the country's democratic movement.

"We do not want the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, this is our problem. Any intervention by any foreign power would bring charges of conspiracy against us," he said. "What has happened in Iraq did not support our movement in any significant way."

Instead, he said, it gave Iran's regime an excuse to crack down on dissidents, accusing them of colluding with the U.S. and promoting an invasion of the Islamic republic.

Ganji, 47, spoke with The Associated Press during a world tour to raise awareness of human rights violations in Iran. He joined protesters outside U.N. headquarters on a symbolic three-day hunger strike aimed at forcing the Iranian regime to release political prisoners.

Since his release, Ganji has toured Europe and collected the World Association of Newspapers' Gold Pen of Freedom award.

On Monday, he will collect an award for his fearless writing from the National Press Club in Washington.

Ganji said he plans to return to Iran, and expects to be jailed again, but is not afraid.

"My goal during my world tour is to show the world that there is an alternative, there is another voice in the region," he said. "That's the voice of peacefulness, liberty, human rights and a democratic Islam."

Ganji said that, until oil revenues are wrested from state hands, there will be virtually no democratic nations in the Middle East.

"Oil is the greatest factor that prevents democracy to take root in the region. Petroleum states have no need for their people," he said. "They do not depend on taxation and therefore there is no accountability to the people."

Ganji, who was imprisoned in 2000 after writing a series of articles accusing Intelligence Ministry agents of killing dissidents, said he was tortured repeatedly during six years in prison.