When the leaders of the world's industrialized nations meet today in Scotland, they would do well to take time out from their policy debates to focus on the fate of Akbar Ganji, who is becoming known as the Iranian Vaclav Havel. He is the journalist and dissident entering his 27th day of a hunger strike inside Tehran's Evin Prison. Over the July 4th weekend, the chief of Iran's society of journalists told the Islamic Republic News Agency that Mr. Ganji was in critical condition. If President Bush meant anything when he proclaimed in his second inaugural, "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you," it is hard to think of a more valiant effort of any individual to make such a stand.
Mr. Ganji is ostensibly in jail for telling the truth about Iran's sham election last month. On medical release and warned to keep a low profile, Mr. Ganji gave an interview to the online political magazine, Iran Emrooz, in which he urged Iranians to boycott the polls. In the interview, he proposed that the powerful supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stand for office. And it has become clear that Mr. Ganji is willing to die for his right to express those opinions.
He was originally jailed in 1999 for publishing a book, "The Red Eminence" that exposed the role of his country's leaders in a string of murders of prominent liberal intellectuals. While in prison, he has written two manifestos on how ordinary Iranians can oust their rulers and build a true republic through civil disobedience directed against the authoritarian clerics that have infantilized a great and proud nation by professing to rule over the souls of its people. He is also an organizer of the movement to overturn the Islamic Republic's flawed constitution that vests so much unchecked power in the hands of an unelected guardian council and the supreme leader.
So when Mr. Ganji publishes a letter addressed to "free peoples everywhere," savvy persons take note. Mr. Ganji has earned the honor of being listened to. He writes that he has lost more than 40 pounds and that his jailors keep him largely in solitary confinement and deny him time to walk outdoors. "Today my broken face is the true face of the system in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Mr. Ganji writes. "I am now the symbol of justice. The justice that, if viewed correctly, puts on display the full extent of the oppression of the rulers of the Islamic Republic."
It's hard to imagine that the timing of his latest letter was coincidental in respect of the G-8 summit in Scotland, where the agenda includes a coordinated strategy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear weapons program. Sadly the Group of Eight industrialized nations has too often dealt with Iran as if it was a threat only to its neighbors. The case of Mr. Ganji, however, makes it clear that the mullahs are first of all a threat to the Persian people.
Mr. Bush is the right leader to speak for this brave Iranian journalist. The president should do so not only because this Iranian writer is a perfect example of the fire that the democratic idea has lit in the minds of men. And not only because he has so often promised Iranians to stand by them in their struggle for freedom. But there are also practical reasons. As the last two and a half years of drawn-out negotiations with Iran have proven, the regime has no real interest in abandoning its efforts to acquire atomic weapons. The best chance the free world has to keep nukes out of the hands of the mullahs is to end their rule.
Mr. Ganji understands this, which is why they have him in prison. But eventually the day will come, when the murals of suicide bombers that deface buildings in Tehran will be replaced by the faces of Mr. Ganji and men and women like him, who bravely defied the authoritarians who hijacked their nation in 1979. And by the leaders of the free world who spoke up for these heroes when they were in the dungeons.