July 23, 2005

Many of Iran's Prisoners of Conscience are indeed the Prisoners of their own Conscience

Who can really be considered a prisoner of conscience in the Islamic Republic of Iran? What do we mean by "conscience"? Whose and which "conscience" are we talking about?

These are very serious questions that I have been reminded of as a new movement by a group of Iranian weblogers, who largely write in Persian, have just started a campaign for the release of Akbar Ganji. Ganji is suffering from mistreatment in jail and lack of proper medical attention.

Ganji is a convert of religious reformism, with strong liberal democratic tendencies, since early 1990s. He started to write critical articles in the Kiyan magazine from 1990, and became a disciple of Dr. Soroush, a theorist of religious reformation and democratic Islamic/Religious State. Ganji's previous revolutionary record of the early 1980s is at best dubious in terms of human rights as he , like many other present reformists, was a revolutionary guard who persecuted many non-Islamist left-wing (communist and Islamic-Marxist) and liberal opposition activists.

From 1998, Ganji's activisim took a radical turn as he started to publish a series of articles in the wake of the murder of at least a dozen freedom activists by the Intelligence ministry in the first couple of years of President Khatami's first administration. Through these, Ganji "actively", and not just "theoretically", broke ranks with his revolutionary counterparts once and for all. His outspoken articles that disclosed the criminal acts of the regime's Intelligence establishment made him the target of the ruling Conservative clerics (who control the Intelligence and the Judiciary), and led to his conviction and imprisonment. Under such difficult circumstances, Ganji maintained contact with foreign journalists as to the chain murders and the complicity of the Intelligence, which led to the expulsion of the then Reuters Bureau Chief and Guardian's special correpspondent from Iran.

Ganji was not alone in his criticism of the regime, another name that frequently show up on any search engine results is that of Emad Baghi. These young men whose ferocious, and unfortunately sometimes criminal, endeavour helped to found the regime's intelligence and revolutionary guard establishments are indeed the children of what became known as the Islamic Revolution of Iran. At the same time, the former US embassy hostage-taker Abbas Abdi's newspaper (Salam) too caused the regime's intelligence establishment a great deal of damage as well. Salam was eventually closed and its closure led to widest students' demonstrations since the 1979 Revolution.

Such activism by these former "children of the Islamic Revolution" kept the momentum to seek disclosure over the role of the regime's intelligence and security establishment on dissidents' chain murders. The reformist deputies in the then Iranian Parliament,who held a majority in the then Parliament, called for a special inquiry over a Conservative cover-up consequently and condemned the harsh sentences handed down to Ganji and other journalists.

While they might still be taken to account for what they did in the early years of the Islamic Republic, Majid Zohari (an Iranian blogger) argues that the call for Ganji's release is because of the mistreatment that he has received due to doing "the right thing", that is betraying the crimes of the regime. Zohari argues that the issue of the previous revolutionary record of people like Ganji should not be used to justify the lack of due process and inhumane treatment that they have received-mainly because these former veterans of the revolution helped to disclosed the complicity of the regime's Intelligence Services' criminal acts (i.e. murdering writers and political dissidents).

Zohari’s point "still" fails to address a more fundamental moral issue of “the children of the revolution being eaten by the same revolution themselves”. Reformists such as Ganji and Baghi were the founders of the Revolutionary Guards and other security and intelligence establishments at the dawn of the Islamic Republic. Zohari’s point would have reached a higher level of salience, if he had developed it to the higher level of civic and political ethics, that is, if he had tried to identify their actions as an attempt to right both their own past wrong-doings and their once much beloved regime's criminal acts and human rights violations (past and present).

The loyal opposition of the regime, led by activists like Ganji and Baghi, are no different from Dr. Frankenstein in a surreal sense. They realise that the machinery that they created and used to suppress/eliminate “non-Islamic” or “anti-“Islamic” “liberal, monarchist, nationalist, liberal, Islamic-Marxist, and communist” opposition is now being used to suppress the disenchanted veterans of the Islamic Republic to the point of “civic and political”, if not “physical” elimination.

Reformists with strong zealous revolutionary record, such as Sazegara, Ganji, Baghi, and many others are indeed “Prisoners of Conscience” in judicial human rights terms. However, they are the “Prisoners of their own Conscience", i.e. their conscientious sense of guilt as a matter of political ethics and historical hindsight. Like many other concepts in modern Iranian political terminology being a "prisoner of conscience" can often have a dual meaning.

In the next post, I intend to write about a wider range of Prisoners of Conscience in Iran, who deserve to receive equal attention and publicity.


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