Iran’s future: an open letter

About the author
Akbar Ganji is an Iranian investigative journalist and critic of the ruling establishment. He exposed the serial murders of opposition intellectuals in 1998 by members of the Iranian security forces; a collection of his articles on this case was published as Dungeon of Ghosts. This contributed to his arrest in April 2000 and sentence to six years' imprisonment. He was released in March 2006, and has since travelled widely to promote the case for democracy and human rights in Iran.

To His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations,

The people of Iran are experiencing difficult times both internationally and domestically. Internationally, they face the threat of a military attack from the United States and the imposition of extensive sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. Domestically, a despotic state has - through constant and organised repression - imprisoned them in a life-and-death situation.

Also about Akbar Ganji in openDemocracy:

Masoud Behnoud, "Akbar Ganji in the prison of Iran" (18 July 2005)

"Free Akbar Ganji: an appeal to Iran" (20 July 2005) - a petition for release

Nazila Fathi, "Akbar Ganji's moment" (7 April 2006)

Far from helping the development of democracy, US policy over the past fifty years has consistently been to the detriment of the proponents of freedom and democracy in Iran. The 1953 coup against the nationalist government of prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq and the unwavering support for the despotic regime of the Shah, who acted as America's gendarme in the Persian Gulf, are just two examples of these flawed policies.

More recently the confrontation between various US administrations and the Iranian state over the past three decades has made internal conditions very difficult for the proponents of freedom and human rights in Iran. Exploiting the danger posed by the US, the Iranian regime has put military-security forces in charge of the government, shut down all independent domestic media, and is imprisoning human-rights activists on the pretext that they are all agents of a foreign enemy.

The Bush administration, for its part, by approving a fund for democracy assistance in Iran, which has in fact being largely spent on official institutions and media affiliated with the US government, has made it easy for the Iranian regime to describe its opponents as mercenaries of the US and to crush them with impunity. At the same time, even speaking about "the possibility" of a military attack on Iran makes things extremely difficult for human rights and pro-democracy activists in Iran.

No Iranian wants to see what happened to Iraq or Afghanistan repeated in Iran. Iranian democrats also watch with deep concern the support in some American circles for separatist movements in Iran. Preserving Iran's territorial integrity is important to all those who struggle for democracy and human rights in Iran. We want democracy for Iran and for all Iranians. We also believe that the dismemberment of middle-eastern countries will fuel widespread and prolonged conflict in the region.

Among openDemocracy's recent articles on events in and around Iran:

Nasrin Alavi, "Iran's attack blowback" (5 February 2007)

Anoush Ehteshami, "Iran and the United States: back from the brink" (16 March 2007)

Sanam Vakil, "Iran's hostage politics" (2 April 2007)

Omid Memarian, "Iran and the United States: time to engage" (2 May 2007)

Rasool Nafisi, "Haleh Esfandiari: Iran's cultural prison" (17 May 2007)

Paul Rogers, "Iran: war and surprise" (13 September 2007)

In order to help the process of democratisation in the middle east, the US can best help by promoting a just peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, and pave the way for the creation of a truly independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. A just resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state would inflict the heaviest blow on the forces of fundamentalism and terrorism in the middle east.

Your Excellency,

Iran's dangerous international situation and the consequences of Iran's dispute with the west have totally deflected the world's attention and especially the attention of the United Nations from the intolerable conditions that the Iranian regime has created for the Iranian people. The dispute over the enrichment of uranium should not make the world forget that, although the 1979 revolution of Iran was a popular revolution, it did not lead to the formation of a democratic system that protects human rights.

The Islamic Republic is a fundamentalist state that does not afford official recognition to the private sphere. It represses civil society and violates human rights. Thousands of political prisoners were executed during the first decade after the revolution without fair trials or due process of the law, and dozens of dissidents and activists were assassinated during the second decade. Independent newspapers are constantly being banned and journalists are sent to prison. All news websites are filtered and books are either refused publication permits or are slashed with the blade of censorship before publication.

Women are totally deprived of equality with men and, when they demand equal rights, they are accused of acting against national security, subjected to various types of intimidation and have to endure various penalties, including long prison terms.

In the first decade of the 21st century, stoning (the worst form of torture leading to death) is one of the sentences that Iranians face on the basis of existing laws. A number of Iranian teachers, who took part in peaceful civil protests over their pay and conditions, have been dismissed from their jobs and some have even been sent into internal exile in far-flung regions or jailed.

Iranian workers are deprived of the right to establish independent unions. Workers who ask to be allowed to form unions in order to struggle for their corporate rights are beaten and imprisoned. Iranian university students have paid the highest costs in recent years in defence of liberty, human rights and democracy. Security organisations prevent young people who are critical of the official state orthodoxy from gaining admission into university, and those who do make it through the rigorous ideological and political vetting process have no right to engage in peaceful protest against government policies.

If students' activities displease the governing elites, they are summarily expelled from university and in many instances jailed. The Islamic Republic has also been expelling dissident professors from universities for about a quarter of a century. In the meantime, in the Islamic Republic's prisons, opponents are forced to confess to crimes that they have not committed and to express remorse. These confessions, which have been extracted by force, are then broadcast on the state media in a manner reminiscent of Stalinist show-trials.

There are no fair, competitive elections in Iran; instead, elections are stage- managed and rigged. And even people who find their way into parliament and into the executive branch of government have no powers or resources to alter the status quo. All the legal and extra-legal powers are in the hands of Iran's supreme leader, who rules like a despotic sultan.

Your Excellency,

Are you aware that in Iran political dissidents, human-rights activists and pro-democracy campaigners are legally deprived of "the right to life"? On the basis of Article 226 of the Islamic penal law, and note 2 of paragraph E of section B of Article 295 of the same law, any person can unilaterally decide that another human being has forfeited the right to life (mahduroldam) and kill them in the name of performing one's religious duty to rid society of vice. Over the past few decades, many dissidents and activists have been killed on the basis of this article and the killers have been acquitted in court. In such circumstances, no dissident or activist has a right to life in Iran, because, on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence and the laws of the Islamic Republic, the definition of those who have forfeited the right to life is very broad.

Are you aware that, in Iran, writers are lawfully banned from writing? On the basis of note 2 of paragraph 8 of Article 9 of the press law, writers who are convicted of "propaganda against the ruling system" are deprived for life of "the right to all press activity". In recent years, many writers and journalists have been convicted of propaganda against the ruling system. The court's verdicts make it clear that any criticism of state bodies is deemed to be propaganda against the ruling system.

Your Excellency,

The people of Iran and Iranian advocates for freedom and democracy are experiencing difficult days. They need the moral support of the proponents of freedom throughout the world and effective intervention by the United Nations. We categorically reject a military attack on Iran. At the same time, we ask you and all of the world's intellectuals and proponents of liberty and democracy to condemn the human-rights violations of the Iranian state. We expect from Your Excellency, in your capacity as the secretary-general of the United Nations, to reprimand the Iranian government - in keeping with your legal duties - for its extensive violation of the articles of the universal declaration of human rights and other international human-rights covenants and treaties.

Above all, we hope that with Your Excellency's immediate intervention, all of Iran's political prisoners, who are facing more deplorable conditions with every passing day, will soon be released. The people of Iran are asking themselves whether the UN Security Council is only decisive and effective when it comes to the suspension of the enrichment of uranium, and whether the lives of the Iranian people are unimportant as far as the Security Council is concerned. The people of Iran are entitled to freedom, democracy and human rights. We Iranians hope that the United Nations and all the forums that defend democracy and human rights will be unflinching in their support for Iran's quest for freedom and democracy.

Yours sincerely,

Akbar Ganji

***

Akbar Ganji's letter is endorsed by:

1. Jürgen Habermas (JW Goethe Universität, Frankfurt)

2. Charles Taylor (McGill University)

3. Noam Chomsky (MIT)

4. Ronald Dworkin (New York University)

5. Robert Bellah (University of California, Berkeley)

6. Alasdair MacIntyre (University of Notre Dame)

7. Orhan Pamuk (recipient of the 2006 Nobel prize for literature)

8. JM Coetzee (recipient of the 2003 Nobel prize for literature)

9. Seamus Heaney (recipient of the 1995 Nobel prize for literature)

10. Nadine Gordimer (recipient of 1991 Nobel prize for literature)

11. Mairead Corrigan-Maguire (recipient of the 1976 Nobel peace prize)

12. Umberto Eco (novelist, Italy)

13. Mario Vargas Llosa (novelist, Peru)

14. Isabel Allende (novelist, Chile)

15. Robert Dahl (Yale University)

16. Michael Walzer (Princeton University)

17. Seyla Benhabib (Yale University)

18. Cornel West (Princeton University)

19. Michael Sandel (Harvard University)

20. Eric Hobsbawm (Birkbeck College, University of London)

21. Stanley Hoffman (Harvard University)

22. Nancy Fraser (New School for Social Research)

23. Philip Pettit (Princeton University)

24. Slavoj Žižek (University of Ljubljana)

25. Daniel A Bell (Tsinghua University)

26. Nikki Keddie (UCLA)

27. Marshall Berman (City College of New York)

28. Hilary Putnam (Harvard University)

29. Robert Putnam (Harvard University)

30. Alan Ryan (Oxford University)

31. Zygmunt Bauman (University of Leeds)

32. Richard J Bernstein (New School University)

33. Nicholas Wolterstorff (Yale University)

34. Talal Asad (City University of New York Graduate Center)

35. Joshua Cohen (Stanford University and Boston Review)

36. Fred Dallmayr (University of Notre Dame)

37. Richard Falk (Princeton University)

38. Harvey Cox (Harvard University)

39. Stephen Holmes (New York University)

40. Andrew Arato (New School for Social Research / University of Frankfurt)

41. Jose Casanova (New School for Social Research)

42. Charles Tilly (Columbia University)

43. David Held (London School of Economics)

44. Joseph Raz (Oxford and Columbia University)

45. Steven Lukes (New York University)

46. Claus Offe (Humboldt University, Berlin)

47. Axel Honneth (JW Goethe Universität, Frankfurt)

48. Khaled Abou El Fadl (UCLA)

49. Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd (University of Humanistics)

50. Abdullahi An Na'im (Emory University)

51. Saad Eddin Ibrahim (American University of Cairo)

52. Abdulkader Tayob (University of Capetown)

53. Zakia Salime (Michigan State University)

54. Henry Louis Gates, Jr (Harvard University)

55. Charles S Maier (Harvard University)

56. Sara Roy (Harvard University)

57. William A Graham (Harvard University)

58. Elaine Bernard (Harvard University)

59. Alexander Keyssar (Harvard University)

60. Farid Esack (Harvard University)

61. Kwame Anthony Appiah (Princeton University)

62. Alexander Nehamas (Princeton University)

63. Anne-Marie Slaughter (Princeton University)

64. Jeffrey Stout (Princeton University)

65. Mirjam Kunkler (Princeton University)

66. Partha Chatterjee (Columbia University)

67. Todd Gitlin (Columbia University)

68. Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia University)

69. Saskia Sassen (Columbia University)

70. Nadia Urbinati (Columbia University)

71. Arthur Danto (Columbia University)

72. Claudio Lomnitz (Columbia University)

73. Lila Abu-Lughod (Columbia University)

74. Gauri Viswanathan (Columbia University)

75. William R Roff (Columbia University & University of Edinburgh)

76. Alfred Stepan (Columbia University)

77. Timothy Mitchell (New York University)

78. Tony Judt (New York University)

79. Zachary Lockman (New York University)

80. Adam Przeworski (New York University)

81. Dipesh Chakrabarty (University of Chicago)

82. Fred Donner (University of Chicago)

83. Manuela Carneiro da Cunha (University of Chicago)

84. Avi Shlaim (Oxford University)

85. Richard Caplan (Oxford University)

86. Alan Macfarlane (University of Cambridge)

87. Mary Kaldor (London School of Economics)

88. Paul Gilroy (London School of Economics)

89. Richard Sennett (London School of Economics)

90. Leslie Sklair (London School of Economics)

91. Sami Zubaida (Birkbeck College, University of London)

92. Veena Das (Johns Hopkins University)

93. William Connolly (Johns Hopkins University)

94. Richard Wolin (City University of New York Graduate Center)

95. Stanley Aronowitz (City University of New York Graduate Center)

96. Adam Hochschild (writer, US)

97. Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor, Tikkun)

98. Cherif Bassiouni (DePaul University)

99. Benjamin Barber (University of Maryland)

100. Ashis Nandy (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi)

101. Ariel Dorfman (Duke University)

102. Ziauddin Sardar (City University, London)

103. WJT Mitchell (editor, Critical Inquiry)

104. Howard Zinn (Boston University)

105. Stephen Lewis (McMaster University)

106. Michael Bérubé (Penn State University)

107. Steven Nadler (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

108. Ernesto Laclau (University of Essex)

109. Chantal Mouffe (University of Westminster)

110. Eduardo Galeano (writer, Uruguay)

111. Achille Mbembe (University of the Witwatersrand)

112. Robert Boyers (editor, Salmagundi)

113. Joe Sacco (graphic novelist)

114. Adam Shatz (The Nation)

115. Arjun Appadurai (New School for Social Research)

116. Dick Howard (Stony Brook University)

117. John Esposito (Georgetown University)

118. Ian Williams (Guardian, online columnist)

119. Ronald Aronson (Wayne State University)

120. Mark Kingwell (University of Toronto)

121. Azyumardi Azra (Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta)

122. Norman Finkelstein (author, US)

123. David Schweickart (Loyola University)

124. Marcus Raskin (Institute for Policy Studies)

125. Juan Cole (University of Michigan)

126. Carlos Forment (Centro de Investigación y Documentación de la Vida Pública)

127. Ronald Beiner (University of Toronto)

128. David E Stannard (University of Hawaii)

129. Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader)

130. Stephen Eric Bronner (Rutgers University)

131. Katha Pollitt (The Nation)

132. Charles Glass (writer, Paris)

133. John Keane (University of Westminster)

134. Matthew Rothschild (The Progressive)

135. Anthony Barnett (openDemocracy)

136. Murat Belge (Bilgi University, Istanbul)

137. Michael Tomasky (editor, Guardian America)

138. Thomas McCarthy (Yale University)

139. Daniel Born (editor, The Common Review)

140. Dušan Veličković (editor, Biblioteka Alexandria, Belgrade)

141. Chris Toensing (Middle East Research and Information Project)

142. Frank Barnaby (editor, The International Journal of Human Rights)

143. Douglass Cassel (University of Notre Dame)

144. Nelofer Pazira (president, PEN Canada)

145. Martín Espada (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

146. Douglas Kellner (UCLA)

147. William Shepard (University of Canterbury, New Zealand)

148. David Ingram (Loyola University Chicago)

149. Enrique Krauze (editor, Letras Libres, Mexico City)

150. Gavin Kitching (University of New South Wales, Australia)

151. Joel Rogers (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

152. Martin Shaw (University of Sussex)

153. Carl Boggs (National University, Los Angeles)

154. Ahmed Rashid (journalist, Lahore)

155. Thomas Keenan (Bard College)

156. Rafia Zakaria (Indiana University)

157. Michael Thompson (Logos)

158. Shadia Drury (University of Regina)

159. Courtney Jung (New School for Social Research)

160. Simon Critchley (New School for Social Research)

161. Hussein Ibish (Hala Salaam Maksoud Foundation)

162. Christopher Norris (Cardiff University)

163. Vinay Lal (UCLA)

164. Chris Hedges (The Nation Institute)

165. Simon Tormey (University of Nottingham)

166. Melissa Williams (University of Toronto)

167. Sandra Bartky (University of Illinois at Chicago)

168. Thomas Sheehan (Stanford University)

169. James Tully (University of Victoria)

170. Asma Afsaruddin (University of Notre Dame)

171. Pankaj Mishra (writer, India)

172. Martin Beck Matuštík (Purdue University)

173. Stephen Zunes (University of San Francisco)

174. Stephen Kinzer (Northwestern University)

175. Rick Salutin (The Globe and Mail)

176. James Reilly (University of Toronto)

177. Ayesha Jalal (Tufts University)

178. Ismail Poonawala (UCLA)

179. Elizabeth Hurd (Northwestern University)

180. Michael Mann (UCLA)

181. Patricia Springborg (Free University of Bolzano, Italy)

182. Henry Munson (University of Maine)

183. Charles Kurzman (University of North Carolina)

184. Rohan Jayasekera (associate editor, Index on Censorship)

185. Stathis N Kalyvas (Yale University)

186. Mary Ann Tetreault (Trinity University)

187. Robert Jensen (University of Texas at Austin)

188. Rashid Begg (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa)

189. Roxanne L Euben (Wellesley College)

190. Peter Mandaville (George Mason University)

191. Edward Friedman (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

192. Ingrid Mattson (Hartford Seminary)

193. Muqtedar Khan (University of Delaware)

194. Duncan Ivison (University of Sydney)

195. Danny Postel (author, US)

196. Mariam C Said

197. Michaelle Browers (Wake Forest University)

198. Tariq Modood (University of Bristol)

199. Ronald J Hill (University of Dublin)

200. Gregory Baum (McGill University)

201. Tamara Sonn (College of William and Mary)

202. Saba Mahmood (University of California, Berkeley)

203. Mark Juergensmeyer (University of California, Santa Barbara)

204. Lucas Swaine (Dartmouth College)

205. Charles Butterworth (University of Maryland)

206. Carole Pateman (Cardiff University)

207. Amrita Basu (Amherst College)

208. Fawaz Gerges (Sarah Lawrence College)

209. Yong-Bock Kim (Asia Pacific Graduate School for Integral Study of Life)

210. Ann Norton (University of Pennsylvania)

211. Cecelia Lynch (University of California, Irvine)

212. Susan Buck-Morss (Cornell University)

213. Aristide Zolberg (New School University)

214. Craig Calhoun (president, Social Science Research Council)

215. Hagit Borer (University of Southern California)

216. Dennis J Schmidt (Penn State University)

217. John Ralston Saul (author, Canada)

218. Corey Brettschneider (Brown University)

219. Timur Kuran (Duke University)

220. Paul Chambers (University of Glamgoran)

221. Robert R Williams (University of Illinois at Chicago)

222. Nicholas Xenos (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

223. WD Hart (University of Illinois at Chicago)

224. Louise Antony (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

225. Rama Mantena (University of Illinois at Chicago)

226. Judith Tucker (Georgetown University)

227. Sam Black (Simon Fraser University)

228. Genevieve Fuji Johnson (Simon Fraser University)

229. Shelley Deane (Bowdoin College)

230. Craig Campbell (St Edward's University)

231. Samer Shehata (Georgetown University)

232. Mona El-Ghobashy (Barnard College)

233. Jacque Steubbel (University of the South School of Theology)

234. David Mednicoff (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

235. Zeynep Arikanli (Institute of Political Studies, Aix-en-Provence, France)

236. RE Jennings (Simon Fraser University)

237. Walid Moubarak (Lebanese American University)

238. Nicola Pratt (University of East Anglia)

239. Ulrika Mårtensson (Norwegian University of Science & Technology)

240. Jillian Schwedler (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

241. Robert D Lee (Colorado College)

242. Alice Amsden (MIT)

243. Stephen Van Evera (MIT)

244. Joanne Rappaport (Georgetown University)

245. Douglas Allen (University of Maine)

246. Sharon Stanton Russell (MIT)

247. Matthew Gutmann (Brown University)

248. Louis Cantori (University of Maryland)

249. Catherine Lutz (Brown University)

250. Azzedine Layachi (St John's University)

251. Katarzyna Jarecka (Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland)

252. HC Erik Midelfort (University of Virginia)

253. Edmund Burke, III (University of California, Santa Cruz)

254. Michael Urban (University of California, Santa Cruz)

255. Susan Moeller (University of Maryland)

256. Laurie J Sears (University of Washington)

257. Margaret Levi (University of Washington)

258. Ebrahim Moosa (Duke University)

259. Robert Ware (University of Calgary)

260. John Entelis (Fordham University)

261. Juan Linz (Yale University)

262. Malise Ruthven (writer, Scotland)

263. Charles Derber (Boston College)

264. Matthew Evangelista (Cornell University)

265. Adam Michnik (editor, Gazeta Wyborcza)

266. Norman Birnbaum (Georgetown University)

267. Hamza Yusuf (Zaytuna Institute)

268. Carol Gould (Temple University)

269. Nubar Hovsepian (Chapman University)

270. Colin Rowat (University of Birmingham)

271. Bettina Aptheker (University of California, Santa Cruz)

272. Jan Nederveen Pieterse (University of Illinois)

273. Udo Schuklenk (Queen's University)

274. Alistair M Macleod (Queen's University)

275. Nancy Gallagher (University of California, Santa Barbara)

276. Jamie Mayerfeld (University of Washington)

277. William A Gamson (Boston College)

278. Michael Goldman (University of Minnesota)

279. Jan Aart Scholte (University of Warwick)

280. Koen Koch (Leiden University, Netherlands)

281. Morton Winston (College of New Jersey)

282. Michael Perry (Emory University)

283. Tony Smith (Tuft University)

284. W Richard Bond (Brock University)

285. Adrie Kusserow (St. Michael's College)

286. Nissim Mannathukkaren (Dalhousie University)

287. Justin Tiwald (San Francisco State University)

288. Ásta Sveinsdóttir (San Francisco State University)

289. Feyzi Baban (Trent University)

290. Elzbieta Matynia (New School University)

291. Beverley Milton-Edwards (Queens University Belfast)

292. Awad Halabi (Wright State University)

293. Arthur Goldschmidt (Penn State University)

294. Peter Railton (University of Michigan)

295. Naomi Klein (author, Canada)

296. Paul Aarts (University of Amsterdam)

297. Thomas Mertes (UCLA)

298. Samuel C Rickless (University of California, San Diego)

299. Emran Qureshi (Harvard University)

300. Donald Rutherford (University of California, San Diego)

301. Terry Eagleton (University of Manchester)

302. Mujeeb Khan (University of California, Berkeley)