Freedom is not free.
The title of this piece has become cliche in recent decades, a mantra of the right to be ignored by the left, repeated so often by people who take their freedoms for granted that by and large it has lost its impact in the U.S. For a great many people, though, this statement is an altruism, they live it every moment of every day. No matter where these people are, they are our brethren, especially if they are imprisoned, held in solitary and threatened with death, or worse, as is the case of Akbar Ganji
Ganji is an Iranian writer who has written about the Iranian government's involvement in the 1998 murders of those who seek to reform the mullahcrocy. He has been in prison on and off since 2001, much of that time in solitary confinement. Many people have called for his release, including President BushThe President calls on all supporters of human rights and freedom, and the United Nations, to take up Ganji's case and the overall human rights situation in Iran," a statement released by the White House yesterday read. Calls for comment to U.N. spokesmen were unreturned at press time last night."The President also calls on the Government of Iran to release Mr. Ganji immediately and unconditionally and to allow him access to medical assistance.
In addition to the leaders of the world speaking out for Ganiji, a simple Google search turns up a large number of sites devoted to him. One of the best, entitled simply "Free Ganji
" has a collection of translations of his past work, well worth the read. Ganji recently managed to have a letter smuggled out of his solitary confinement cell which is also available through the invaluable MEMRI, they have translated the message and posted it
"The entire world knows of hundreds who have been incarcerated in Iran's prisons in recent years merely because they had different thoughts. Nevertheless, the liars deny that there are prisoners of conscience in the Islamic Republic. Tehran's Islamic Prosecutor [Saeed Mortazavi] fabricated a few stories about the circumstances of my arrest. Once he made up [the story] that I was in solitary because I began a hunger strike, and the next day he denied I was on a hunger strike, and falsely claimed that I was in solitary to teach me a lesson. Recently he has been telling various stories that I am in solitary because I suffer from mental problems, and require medical supervision.
"What does this medical supervision consist of? The person is imprisoned in a dark unventilated dungeon, and is denied visits even if he is in need of medical supervision. In addition, he is prevented from reading newspapers or using the phone, and is denied the 20-minute period in the sun and fresh air given to every [other] convict.
"The Islamic prosecutor said he wanted to punish me until I have 'sobered up and understood the error of my ways and recanted, just like others in the Islamic prisons.'"
"Denying [Opinions] and Signing Recantations are Tactics Invented by Stalin, and the Islamic Republic [in Iran] has now Adopted Them."
"I want the world to know: I am not sick, and I have not been on a hunger strike. My weight loss, from 77 to 58 kilos, is the result of the torture to which I have been subjected this past month. Why are the authorities refusing to allow the press to photograph me and to publish [the photos]?"
"What the Islamic prosecutor doesn't know is that Ganji may die, but the love of freedom, and the thirst for political justice will never die. Ganji may die, but humanism and the love of one's fellow man, and the hope and expectations for a better future, will never die.
"I will spend my time in solitary, but my heart will continue to beat for freedom. And some of the time I will hear prisoners cry for the windows of their solitary cells to be opened, to let the sun in."
So the next time you hear someone say that "freedom isn't free" think of Akbar Ganji, and tell that person about him. Make sure that person knows that the bumper sticker slogan is still true, and that for much of the world it is an intensely current fact of life. And when you are confronted with someone who decries the Guantanomo prison, and the war in Iraq, remind them that our battles are with people like those who have imprisoned Ganji. Make sure they understand that we live in a society where a reporter can invent a story about the flushing of a Koran down the toilet and people die half the world away. Ganji lives in a world where he dares to speak the truth and faces the possibility of paying for it with his life.
When we can summon the righteous indignation of the world against regimes and dictators who oppress their own people, and can count on the world to force these regimes to listen to their own people we will have made great strides in the promotion of freedom and democracy. In the mean time, I would like to say thank you to all the men and women who have given their lives, suffered wounds and offer today their own futures to pay the price for our freedom. Mr. Ganji, may your voice be heard and you and your people someday know the freedom that you crave and so deserve.