investigative journalist and 2006 WAN-IFRA Golden Pen of Freedom
laureate, Akbar Ganji, accepted the 2010 award on behalf of his good
friend and fellow journalist, Ahmad Zeidabadi, who is currently serving a
six-year prison sentence in Iran. In an emotional speech delivered at
the opening ceremony of the 17th World Editors Forum in Hamburg,
Germany, Mr Ganji praised Mr Zeidabadi's commitment to peace and
condemned the regime for suppressing freedom of speech inside the
Akbar Ganji's full speech read:
"People of the pen have gathered here to honor Ahmad Zeidabadi, a journalist who during dark and difficult days has defended the cause of liberty and the right to dissent.
"This is the third time that because of his defense of liberty and human rights he has been arrested. During the first two times he spent thirteen months in jail, a few months of which was in solitary confinement. His third round of incarceration, which began on 13 June 2009, continues to this day. The hardships of this new episode of imprisonment and the weight of pressures that his jailers have put on him have pushed him to the edges of suicide. It is now for more than a year that under the most unbearable conditions he is suffering in a fire that absolutist religious tyranny has set aflame.
"The flames of this injustice are not limited to Zeidabadi himself. His wife and three children are also patiently and courageously suffering the consequences of his pain and tribulation. They too are trapped in the larger prison of juridical Sultanism. Unfortunately not much attention is paid to the destructive effect of these acts of injustice and violence on the children of Zeidabadi and those of other activists for liberty in Iran. The pain and sufferings of the family members of those who are fighting for democracy and human rights in Iran are no less than the pain and suffering of those defendants of liberty themselves. When these family members hear and learn how their loved ones are tormented and tortured under hellish conditions of the Supreme Jurist's dungeons, when they hear that the henchmen of this Supreme Jurist shove the proud head of these brave men and women into toilet, the fear and horror they experience are beyond description. The childhood of the offspring of these courageous men and women are filled with such terrors. Every time their door bell rings, the little hearts of these children tremble with fear that yet again their home is being violently raided by the officers of this Supreme Jurist, and that their parents become victims of violence and indignity right in front of their eyes.
"The true nature of this Islamist clerical Sultanism is best evident in the dungeons of Evin, Kahrizak, and Raja'i Shahr. How this regime nourishes the rise of the lowliest characters, and how despicable this regime is can only be witnessed in the hellish corners of these dungeons. Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei have done things without the slightest hesitation that Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah never did, or could not bring themselves to doing, and they have concocted all sorts of religious and non-religious justifications for what they do. In their ideological Islam, anything, absolutely any heinous act, is considered justifiable. It is for that reason that in the government of the Supreme Jurist anything, absolutely anything, is permissible in order to break down political prisoners and violate their human dignity. But in these very hellish circumstances, Ahmad Zeidabadi has transformed the solitary confinements of the religious tyranny into a place for contemplation and cleansing of his own soul. In his solitary confinement he both prays and dances, diligent about his piety, and yet putting on stage his joyous self in his happy and self-choreographed dancing.
"Alas Iran today is under the occupation of a band of deceitful liars. The occupying regime of the Shi'i clerics has targeted the moral foundation of the society and is determined to portray vices as virtues. Usually foreign occupiers occupy a country territorially. But these occupiers have targeted the dignity and integrity of a nation. In what these people in position of power do there is not a trace of commitment to ethics, propriety, or truthfulness. They call people to an election, and yet they call their vote "a velvet revolution," "a soft regime change," and "a menace." But the Supreme Jurist and his henchmen did not cheat in this election. They never even counted people's votes to manipulate them one way or another. Following the instructions of the Supreme Jurist, those who administered this election never actually counted people's votes and just periodically fed people with manufactured statistics. This was a very clear message to all those involved in politics inside the regime: A new kind of politics had just stared and election even in the limited conception that had hitherto existed will no longer be allowed. All politicians now had to comply their behavior with the wishes of the Supreme Jurist, or else they will be jailed. Even the neutral and silent people will not be tolerated and will be eliminated from the political scene. Only those who will abide by the new guidelines and its consequences will be tolerated inside the organs of the regime. Ahmad Zeidabadi was among those who opposed this tyrannical rule that has violated the constitutional rights of the people--and thus jail and solitary confinement has become his lot.
"I now ask myself what would have Ahmad Zeidabadi possibly said if he were here with us receiving this award? Answering this question is not easy. But we know for sure that he is a man of peace. As a prominent Iranian analyst of the Middle East, he has always defended the aspirations of peace between Israel and the Arabs, and he believes that this objective is possible only through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel. He believes that the fate of Palestinian people will have to be determined by Palestinians themselves, and no state should abuse the fate of the Palestinians as an instrument for furthering its own interests and objectives. His perspective on the Palestinian predicament was always from a humanitarian and humanist perspective, and thus vastly different from the instrumentalist vantage point of the Islamic Republic. He has been repeatedly attacked by various organs of the Islamic Republic precisely because of his humanistic perspective in this respect.
"In the matter concerning the nuclear stalemate between the Islamic Republic and the West, Zeidabadi was severely critical of the provocative and unwise polices of the regime. He is deeply concerned about all sorts of dangers that threaten the territorial integrity and natural and human resources of Iran precisely because of such unwise policies. He always opposed the face off between the Islamic Republic and the Security Council of the United Nations. Contrary to the Iranian president he did not consider the Security Council resolutions "useless pieces of paper." He wishes for the Iranian national interests to be pursued based on wise policies predicated on people's will. He is worried about the independence of Iran, and he knows very well that this territorial independence cannot be guaranteed except by respecting the independence and dignity of Iranian people.
"Zeidabadi is a liberal, and a democrat. He has always defended the rights of those who think differently. He believes that it is the inalienable right of people to change their ideas and be free to choose the way they live. He has always defended the rights of women and been critical of discriminatory traditions against women. He believes that a government is a product of a people's will and must abide by that will. In his judgment, a political leader is simply representative of people and responsible to them--and not a sanctified person who assumes a position beyond reproach. This very perspective led Zeidabadi to write open and critical letters to the tyrant sultan who rules Iran. Zeidabadi knows only too well that a passage to democracy is impossible without a social movement.
"During the last presidential election in Iran he was looking for a candidate who would offer relatively more radical ideas that would in turn initiate a social movement. Of course the oppositional movement in Iran was not the result of any project by oppositional candidates or that of political activists. Instead, it was the cumulative effect of all sorts of disappointments among a variety of groups, from journalist and students to women, teachers, and workers. In this process, journalists like Zeidabadi were enlightening the public in solidarity with their movement. Zeidabadi is not a revolutionary, and does not believe that violence is the way towards securing a democratic system that is committed to human rights and liberty. In his judgment the means of achieving and end are as important as that end. Nonviolent struggle is defensible ethically and it is practically efficacious. A nonviolent movement also generates deep sympathy in the international community and raises this question in people's mind that why is it that in a regime dominated by Islamic jurisprudence, and the Supreme Islamic Jurist who rules over the Islamic Republic, thinkers and intellectuals who have no weapon except their ideas are so brutally crushed. It was precisely for this reason that as an intellectual journalist Zeidabadi was consistently calling on people to be calm and avoid violence. There were even times that he was calling on activist to observe "political silence" and simply ignore the government so that the volume of state repression of the opposition would diminish, and thus despite serious flaws in the Iranian electoral process he opted to enter the election scene actively so that no peaceful way for changing and reforming the political structure would be left unexamined. He knows very well that hatred and violence would lead to more hatred and violence, and yielding to this dangerous game might very well push the society into a vicious circle of destructive aggression that would engulf generations to come.
"I have no doubt that if Ahmad Zeidabadi was here with us, he would have shared the honor of this prestigious award with other political prisoners. One must interpret these awards as a kind of ethical and moral endorsement of democratic activists who are committed to liberty and human rights. Today members of the world community of journalists have selected Ahmad Zeidabadi as the courageous journalist of 2010 fighting for democracy, and have honored him with the Golden Pen Award. This is a judicious and fair choice worthy of Ahmad Zeidabadi. He uses the might of his pen not just to tell the truth and expose political corruption. In addition he also tries responsibly to use his pen and his ideas to make the world more ethical, reduce people's pain and suffering. Without a doubt this pen will bring its responsibilities to fruition, for what that pen writes gushes forth from the soul of the person holding that pen and is the bright and shining mirror of his noble heart and his humane ideas."
6 October 2010
Translated from Persian by Hamid Dabashi