BERLIN – The euphoria surrounding the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program last week has not altered the deteriorating human rights situation in the Islamic Republic.
“The Vienna deal bears a very grave danger for Iran’s civil society. Not only won’t we see their economic situation improve, but the regime will also have an incentive to abuse human rights more severely. A flood of cash is going into the pockets of this leadership. It will be used to tighten their grip [on power] and to further imprison, torture and kill innocent Iranians,” Saba Farzan, a German-Iranian journalist and the executive director at the Foreign Policy Circle NGO, told The Jerusalem Post
Although the nuclear talks were not designed to address human rights, they have now emerged as an increasingly hot-button issue.
Farzan’s comments were echoed by other Iranian human rights experts such as Stefan Schaden, a member of the Vienna-based group Stop the Bomb, who told the Post that “there is no indication that the negotiations will improve human rights.”
Rather than improving the human rights situation, more “hangings, arrests, and repression,” can instead be expected, he said.
Schaden said that Iran used a carrot and stick approach. For the international community, Iran uses the carrot and invokes charm. Within the Islamic Republic, the regime applies the stick to its citizens.
The lack of European support for Iran’s opposition has been one of the most neglected media stories during the coverage of the nuclear talks.
Schaden lamented that there has been “no official invitation to the EU Parliament for the secular and democratic opposition.” He proposes that Europe invest in strengthening Iran’s opposition and ban the use of dual-use goods that can be used for both military and civilian purposes.
Speaking from Princeton University, where he is a visiting professor, Prof. David Menashri told the Post
, “When it comes to human rights it is very tough for this government to change.”
Menashri, the founding director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, and is one of the world’s leading scholars on Iran, said that the nuclear agreement “was probably designed by the Western countries on the assumption that the deal is only about the nuclear issue. The second phase will be some greater willingness of the Iranian administration to ease on issues of human rights. It is unclear if this will happen.
“Iran’s government will not raise the issue and the West is reluctant to stress the release of political prisoners, because it is an intervention in domestic affairs and it [the West] does not want to antagonize Iran,” he said, despite the fact that “the issue of human rights is very important not only for Iran but for the region.
“Dramatic change [in Iran] will take time, if they [happen] at all,” Menashri said. “If I want to be optimistic, let’s wait and see what happens.”
In an interview with the Post
, Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said, “I think the human rights situation could get worse in the short run. When the regime makes compromises, it is always worried that some compromises creates a perception among the opposition that it is weak.”
As a result, Iran seeks to “make itself tough and crack down on issues important to the opposition, especially human rights,” Javedanfar said. He added, “One thing the regime is worried about is that [as a result of] sanctions it showed that it [was willing to] modify its nuclear policy. It answered to pressure. And that might lead to change in other issues. The regime showed reform in nuclear policy, and people might get a taste for it in other areas like human rights.”
During celebrations for the nuclear agreement in Iran, he said, some people wore the green arm bands associated with the 2009 Green Movement protest against Iran’s fraudulent election, while there were also chants supporting reformist politician Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who ran for president in 2009 and remains under house arrest.
It is unclear if Iran will clamp down on the small pockets of Green Movement supporters. The climate of fear fostered by the regime has had a startling longevity. Put simply, it is difficult to organize for freedom in a 36-year-old system of Islamic totalitarianism.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in Iran for
The Jerusalem Post, and is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.