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Iranian Dissident Journalist Calls For Election Boycott

Prague, 2 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Akbar Ganji, Iran's most prominent investigative journalist, has called for a boycott of the 17 June presidential election in an exclusive interview with Radio Farda.

Ganji was temporarily released from jail on 30 June after going on a hunger strike for 11 days to protest his detention conditions. Ganji is best known for his investigations into the killing of dissidents and intellectuals. He was jailed in 2001 on several charges, including insulting Iran's leaders and spreading lies.

In his interview with Radio Farda, Akbar Ganji points to several factors he says makes elections under Iran's current laws and system meaningless.

He refers to the right of the Guardians Council -- the country's powerful constitutional watchdog -- to disqualify candidates considered un-Islamic or not loyal to the Islamic establishment.

"The election process is unfair and undemocratic. Those who are not of the same mind as the regime are being eliminated. Many parts of the society are being eliminated illegally in the beginning of the [election] process. Therefore, this process -- apart from its other problems -- will not be a process of free elections," Ganji said.

Hundreds Rejected

Out of more than 1,000 candidates who submitted applications to run in the upcoming presidential election, only eight have been approved. Two candidates from the reformist camp were reinstated only after Iran's Supreme Leader urged the conservative Guardians Council to review their applications.

Ganji told Radio Farda that under Iran's current state structure, the president has almost no power. Therefore, he says there is no point in electing a new president:

"I say even if we consider these elections as free -- which they are not -- the other issue is that the person who would be the next president, the product, and the result of the elections -- even if he's a reformist -- in the power structure he is good for nothing; because the real power is in the hand of the leader, the judiciary, the parliament, the [Revolutionary] Guards, the basij [volunteer militia force] and other organs. In this framework, what will [the president] achieve? What can he do? The Guardians Council, the Expediency Council -- they will all stand against him," Ganji said.

'Failure To Deliver'

Ganji also recalls what he calls President Mohammed Khatami's failure to deliver on his promises of reform and change during his eight years in office.

Earlier this month, Ganji wrote in the second part of his "Manifesto of Republicanism" that an election boycott is a step toward democracy in Iran. He has called for civil disobedience and noncooperation. The first and second parts of the book have been widely published on Iranian news websites.

Ganji says an election boycott would be a blow to the legitimacy of Iran's establishment.

"The transition to democracy in different regimes has different prices. In dictatorships, this transition requires noncooperation with the self-ruler and de-legitimizing him. No despot has ever given up his power willingly," Ganji said.

He says the transition to democracy in Iran should be achieved without violence.

Iranian reformists say the power of un-elected bodies, such as the Guardians Council, should be limited. The head of Iran's main pro-reform party, Mohammad Reza Khatami, has said: "In our country, we have two power structures and preserving the democratic one is a major step toward establishing democracy."

Ganji, however, rejects such calls and says that under Iran's current political system and constitution, real democracy cannot be achieved.

"Those who are theoretically and practically committed to Iran's constitution, if they go after reforming the current ruling establishment, maybe they are taking the right way. But if someone's main concern is democracy and establishing a democratic regime that is bound to human rights, then that person would not be willing to reform the establishment; his main issue would be how to move from a un-democratic regime to a democratic regime. And I've written in the first and second 'Manifesto' that under the current regime I have no hope for any reform leading to a transition toward a democratic system," Ganji said.

Ganji says his views have become more radical through the years spent in prison. On 31 June, he told reporters in Tehran that even if he had to spend the rest of his life in prison, he would not change his views.

(By Mina Baharmast and Golnaz Esfandiari)