Wall Street Journal: Barack Obama extended the olive branch to Iran's leaders last Friday in a videotaped message praising a "great civilization" for "accomplishments" that "have earned the respect of the United States and the world." The death of Iranian blogger Omid-Reza Mirsayafi in Tehran's Evin prison two days earlier was, presumably, not among the accomplishments the president had in mind.
The Wall Street Journal
By Bret Stephens
Barack Obama extended the olive branch to Iran's leaders last Friday in a videotaped message praising a "great civilization" for "accomplishments" that "have earned the respect of the United States and the world." The death of Iranian blogger Omid-Reza Mirsayafi in Tehran's Evin prison two days earlier was, presumably, not among the accomplishments the president had in mind.
Mr. Obama's solicitous message, timed to the Persian New Year's celebration of Nowruz, met a blunt response from the Islamic Republic's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei: "He insulted the Islamic Republic of Iran from the first day," he said. "If you are right that change has come, where is that change?" To this, soidisant Iran experts and latter-day Walter Durantys explain that it is merely Mr. Khamenei's opening gambit in what promises to be a glorious new chapter in Iranian-U.S. relations.
Maybe the experts never got the message about no meaning no. And maybe Mr. Obama forgot that the late Ayatollah Khomeini tried to ban Nowruz, a pre-Islamic tradition, and that both Mr. Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have sought to curtail and Islamicize the holiday against widespread resistance. But never mind: The most telling indicator of what we can expect from Mr. Obama's overture is Mirsayafi's death, a fitting emblem of everything the Islamic Revolution stands for on its 30th anniversary.
What was a blogger doing in prison in the first place? Ask 26-year-old Kianoosh Sanjari, another Iranian blogger and Evin prison alumnus who fled the country in 2007 and is now in the U.S. seeking asylum.
Mr. Sanjari was first arrested at 17 for joining a procession commemorating the first anniversary of the violently suppressed 1999 student protests at Tehran University. Over the next seven years he was arrested nine times, imprisoned six, flipped between "official" and secret prisons, surveilled and harassed by the secret police, subjected to endless interrogations, held both in overcrowded cells and incommunicado in solitary confinement (for a total of nine months), beaten while blindfolded and subjected to extreme sensory deprivation.
"When you express your dissatisfaction in a civil way and you're faced with physical violence and cruelty, you realize the baseness of the equation," Mr. Sanjari tells me, explaining the impulses that animated his dissent. "The moment you go to prison is when you realize you are in the right. And when you see what nefarious people the regime has to break you is when you feel the need to fight back."
Between prison terms Mr. Sanjari headed the Association of Political Prisoners, which follows more than 500 known cases in Iran. About Mirsayafi, he says that when his fellow blogger "found out that he had been summoned to court and that he may end up with a prison sentence, he wrote an email to friends. He said he felt powerless to withstand what torture he would have to face in prison. He also told a mutual friend that he did not think he would survive the imprisonment. He was well aware of the fact that they wanted to do away with him."
Mirsayafi's forebodings proved well-justified. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that he was taken to the prison hospital shortly before his death with an irregular pulse. "The doctor told [the prison authorities] how to treat him, asked him to send him to a city hospital," Mirsayafi's lawyer told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "But they ignored the doctor and said [Mirsayafi] was faking his illness. The doctor said, 'his heartbeat is 40 per minute, you can't fake that.' But they sent the doctor out of the room." Prison authorities ruled the death a suicide; Mirsayafi was only 25.
Whether Mirsayafi's death cows or emboldens Iran's dissident bloggers remains to be seen. Not the least of their considerations will be the attitude of Mr. Obama, who in his videotaped address went out of his way to speak of "the Islamic Republic of Iran," thereby giving the mullahs claim to a nation, and a civilization, they have done so much to oppress and degrade. Yes, an American president must look first, second and third to American interests. But a presidency predicated on the view that our values are our strength should not forsake those values for diplomatic expediency, much less betray our friends abroad who live, and have died, by those values.
Shortly after Mr. Obama's inauguration, Mr. Sanjari put his name to an open letter to the new president, signed by several prominent young Iranian dissidents, calling on him "to pay special attention to the repressive, unaccountable nature of the regime" that now threatens and provokes the U.S. and our allies. Its conclusion is as fitting a tribute as any to Mirsayafi's notable and too-brief life:
"Mr. President, you marked your first day in the White House by ordering the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. But in our country, many Guantanamos exist, only our Guantanamos are home to students, women's rights activists, labor organizers, political activists, and journalists. We, as former student activists who spent time in Iranian prisons under inhumane conditions, call on you and all those who defend human rights, freedom and equality to express solidarity to the people of Iran as they wage their struggle for freedom."