Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sharansky on Libya's Fathi Eljahmi (And On Obama)

From the op-ed in today's Washington Post by human rights activist Natan Sharansky who spent nine years in the Soviet gulag and serves as chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

Death of A Dissident

Fathi Eljahmi, the most prominent democratic dissident in Libya, died last Thursday. Eljahmi had endured seven years in unspeakable conditions in the Libyan prison system. His crime? He spoke out, unflinchingly, for freedom of speech and democratic reforms...

...His brother Mohamed, an American citizen, spent years calling attention to the case...At a 2007 conference of democratic dissidents in Prague, I saw how moved President George W. Bush was by hearing Eljahmi's brother tell his story. Bush promised to press the case with the Libyan government. Despite American efforts, though, Eljahmi remained in prison.

Why? Because dictatorial regimes are well practiced at telling the difference between real pressure and lip service.

...The free world has many reasons to approach dictatorial regimes with kid gloves. Sometimes we want their cooperation in addressing regional problems, sometimes we worry about disrupting the oil markets, sometimes we are anxious about global stability. Regarding Libya, from which the West has managed to extract a promise not to develop nuclear weapons and not to support terrorist organizations, there is concern about risking those things that have been gained.

As a result, and with the West's blessing, Libya has succeeded in becoming a global spokesman for brutal dictatorships like its own. We have stood by as Libya was elected to chair the U.N. Human Rights Commission and as it became a key organizer of the Durban II anti-racism conference in Geneva. In a few months, a Libyan will take up the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly...

...Of course it is important to engage peoples around the world in constructive dialogue. But a dialogue with a country's people is not the same as a dialogue with their regime...Today, the ball is in the court of the free world. Will its leaders make Libya pay a heavy price, making clear to Libyans and other oppressed peoples that brutality will not be tolerated and that freedom can one day be theirs? Or will the message match that of the Libyan regime to its people: that in their country, freedom has no future.

The coming days will tell us how the free world has chosen.

In between the lines, is Sharansky talking to Obama?

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