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Iran: Dissident Sees 'Inspiration For Struggle'

Akbar Ganji (file photo) (epa) July 28, 2006 -- Prominent Iranian dissident journalist Akbar Ganji said this week that the reformers' "time is not over" and that existing political strictures might provide "inspiration for struggle."

But Ganji, who spent six years in prison over his activities challenging Iranian officials, warned in a Radio Farda interview this week that "democracy and human rights comes with a price tag."

Ganji is a vociferous critic of the country's current leadership and authored a book in 2000 that implicates many senior conservative figures in a spate of political assassinations in the late 1990s.

He said the sometimes fractious Iranian opposition has made "a lot of progress" that allows for increased cooperation to confront powerful conservative elements.

Checks On Power?

Ganji said senior officials "insist on more power than has been granted by the constitution." He added that "militarists [have been] granted access to the executive power."

But he suggested that official hostility could backfire. "We are now facing an Islamic republic that is exhibiting its utmost power to suppress the democracy movement," Ganji said. "In such a situation, people can better make up their minds and press forward with their demands."

He also said that realities inside Iran and abroad prevent "the regime [from] suppressing all activities."

Ganji reiterated his hopes for democratization in Iran but stressed that "transition to democracy is impossible under the current constitution." He characterized opponents of the current system as divided over the constitutional issue.

"My main problem with [Iran's reformists] is that they still want to work within the framework of the constitution," he said. "This will not work."

Nonviolent Opposition

Ganji rejected violence, calling it "philosophically impossible and...practically undesirable."

The alternative is "to go for change but not change all the existing structures" through civil disobedience, Ganji said.

He blamed former President Mohammad Khatami for "squandering [a] historical opportunity" after his election on a reformist platform in 1997. He said Khatami declined to exercise the constitutional authority granted to him to prevent hard-liners from curbing political rights and freedoms.

Ganji said that his next aim is to organize widespread protests promoting women's rights and opposing "sexual apartheid" and gender-based discrimination.

Asked about the prominent role on the world stage of fanatical Muslims and his frequent refrain encouraging religious moderation, Ganji said fundamentalists of many faiths pursue a common agenda. "We, the moderate Muslims, who want to promote peace, moderation, friendship, and democracy need to build ties with peace-loving people in the West -- Christian or Jewish -- and form a united front."

Iran's Youth

Iran's Youth

FOCUS ON YOUTH: Kaveh Basmenji is the head of RFE/RL's Persian-language Radio Farda. He was born in Tehran in 1961 and began working as a journalist at the age of 16. He recently spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari about his book "Tehran Blues" (Read an excerpt from the book.) and the role of youth in Iranian society today... (more).

See also:

Interview: The Voice Of Iran's Youth

Iranian Youth Movement Has Untapped Potential

Prize-Winning Documentary Exposes Hidden Side Of Iranian Society

PEN Launches Campaign In Support Of Women 'Cyber-Dissidents'