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Iranian Activist Wins Award for Advancing Liberty

Iranian opposition activist Akbar Ganji accepts the Milton Friedman Award for Advancing Liberty

Iranian opposition activist Akbar Ganji has won the Milton Friedman Award for Advancing Liberty, named after the famous American economist, now deceased.

Iranian opposition activist and journalist, Akbar Ganji, received the award in Washington Thursday night.

Ganji spent six years in top security Evin Prison for exposing the Islamic government's alleged involvement in the murder of five Iranian dissidents. He was released in 2006 and left Iran.

But the protests against President Ahmadinejad's controversial re-election last year, inspired activists like Ganji to further oppose the Islamic government in Tehran.

With the first anniversary of the election in June, Ganji says the recent execution of five Iranian dissidents is a warning that Iranians should not take to the streets on the anniversary. "They make moves that on the one hand create terror and intimidation and on the other they provoke certain segment into committing violence," he said.

The human rights situation in Iran, rather than Mr. Ahmadinejad and the controversy over Tehran's nuclear program, should be the focus of Western Media, he says.

Coverage of Iran's nuclear ambitions benefits the government, he says, because it sparks nationalist sentiment. "And when a confrontation occurs with the West on this issue, that is when the government can collect (rally) more forces behind itself," he said.

In the bid to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, Israel has said all options - including a military option - are on the table. The US has been more ambiguous.

Ganji says a military strike will hurt the movement for democracy. "This is what the regime wants right now. They want Israel or the US to come and bomb a certain area," he said.

He also says new economic sanctions are not the solution, because they will only hurt the Iranian people. "Where one can really fight this regime is the issue of human rights. The world must take up this as the main issue with Iran," he said.

Ganji says the West must make sure Iran gets foreign investment only if it respects human rights. And Iranian leaders linked to the murders of civilians, he says, should be arrested when they travel outside Iran. "Just as they arrested Milosevic, so they must arrest these people. They must create dossier for crimes against humanity for these people," he said.

He says the future of Iran lies with the 50 million people born after the 1979 Revolution.

He says the the Islamic regime has failed to understand them.

To underscore the generation gap, Ganji talked about his daughters who refused to join him at the award ceremony. They said "Dad, that is YOUR award. We don't want to be known because of YOU."