Akbar Ganji smiles after receiving Florence honorary citizenship, in Florence, Italy, Monday, June 12, 2006. (Photo: AP Photo/Lorenzo Galassi)
Akbar Ganji who was "playing with death" last summer is now a free man. Not just a free man, he is an international figure. He has been given numerous awards for his brave journalism and for his advocacy of human rights by various international groups world wide (WAN Golden Pen Award, Honourary Citizen of Florence, Martin Ennals Award, ...). Fortunately for him and, in my opinion, the people of Iran, he has also managed to get the Iranian government's permission to go abroad. I suspect that the officials were hoping he would choose to stay there and become an exile, like many others, after what he suffered, and be less of a nuisance—something he rejected out of hand promptly in his interviews. He is attending the ceremonies in which he is honoured and he is using the opportunity to speak out with no hesitation whasoever for democracy and human rights in Iran, and for peaceful ways of attaining these basic demands. When faced with questions about the current Iranian nuclear crisis and a possible military intervention, unlike his Nobel-winning lawyer, he does not issue edicts on other people's behalf, but takes a very reasonable stance: that he cannot imagine advocating something that would destroy his dear Iran. And he is right. We cannot, and that is exactly why we want freedom, democracy, and human rights.
As someone who has followed the news related to Ganji's case ever since he was writing enlightening reports and articles in reformist newspapers in Tehran (for which he endured six years in jail) I think there is a big lesson for me and my compatriats in Ganji's story. Many people in Iran, who are fed up with the situation, and know in their mind or feel in their guts that they want freedom, argue or think at the same time that there is nothing that they can do. In a sense that is right. What can one do before violent thugs who are ready to beat up, and the mighty government apparatus that is geared at charging, whoever dares to show at a well-supported peaceful gathering? It is as if one is before an invincible machine that is programmed to take as much freedom away from people as possible.
And yet there is something that one can do: not to give up! That is, I think, the big lesson of Ganji's story.
Even a single man who was quarantined and isolated from the outside world in solitary cells for many years, can still do something, be recognized for it, and find his freedom, too. It's the power of truth that shall be doing for us what we cannot do individually ourselves. Sometimes, all we can and should do, is not to give up. Then, eventually, as we stand for our rights, the whole world will stand by us.