On human rights


“They told them, ‘You have to renounce your previous ideology,’ and because they weren’t willing to renounce it, they were executed.”

At International House Thursday, Iranian political dissident Akbar Ganji described his government's role in killing writers and dissidents in 1998, as he did in two books on the subject, The Dungeon of Ghosts and The Red Eminence and the Gray Eminence. Before an audience of about 300, Ganji recalled being jailed and tortured for speaking out about that abuse. Law professor Martha Nussbaum served as moderator, questioning him on human rights, Iran’s evolution toward democracy, the status of women, and the U.S.-Iran relationship.

“I should not have to suffer, and that is what brings me rights,” said Ganji, who embarked on a speaking tour of the West after he was released from prison in March. Since all humans know what it means to suffer, he argued, nations could agree on a right to be free from suffering. “If we go with this issue of suffering, could we justify the complete list of rights women are claiming?” asked Nussbaum. Ganji explained that “suffering” goes beyond physical pain, including mental anguish as well—something a woman could suffer as much as a man if her political and social rights are restricted. “Of course I will suffer when my rights are not equal to others,” he said.

Reflecting on Iran’s history, Ganji said that the last thing the country needs is another revolution. Civil disobedience is the best route to democracy, he said—a theory he put into practice in 2005 with a month-long hunger strike while in prison. What Iran needs now, Ganji says, is to unite the women’s, labor, youth, and student movements. “Everybody in some way is actually fighting this regime. And we’re trying to harmonize this movement.”

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photo: Nussbaum (far left) listens to Ganji (second from left) with the help of two translators.

October 2, 2006