Debates about Iran’s nuclear program tend to occur on the governmental level. We study the regime, weigh its motives, judge whether it would use nuclear weapons to pursue its apocalyptic visions, and decide whether it’s “containable” in the way that Washington contained a nuclear Moscow.
Sometimes overlooked, however, are tens of millions of individuals who may have the most at stake in this debate – Iran’s people. That’s because a nuclear Tehran will be less susceptible to outside pressure, giving the regime even more leeway to suppress human rights within its borders.
Iran’s human rights picture has huge implications for the rest of us as well. Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov used to say: “A country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of its neighbors.” If so, that’s one more reason to fear an Iran with nuclear weapons.
All of that makes a new Amnesty International (AI) report on Iran’s human rights picture especially timely – and troubling.
Entitled “We Are Ordered To Crush You” (which is what an Iranian interrogator reportedly told a detained journalist) and released this week, it describes a recent deterioration on human rights in Iran even beyond the regime’s consistently inhumane practices since its birth through the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, publicly celebrated the “Arab Spring” uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, saying they reflected an “Islamic uprising” based on Iran’s 1979 revolution. But, as the regime has since demonstrated in deeds rather than words, what’s good for the Arab goose is not good for the Persian gander.
The regime was stung in 2009 by massive demonstrations that followed Iran’s fraudulent presidential election, forcing Tehran to brutally restore its version of domestic tranquility. Two years later, Tehran was in no mood to let the Arab Spring infect its people. Nor was it ready to let parliamentary elections that are now underway serve as another rallying point for protest.
Since its ugly experience of 2009, AI reports, Tehran has cracked down on free expression in a wide range of ways.
- The regime has launched massive arrests of students, journalists, political activists, workers’ rights activists, religious and ethnic minorities, filmmakers, and lawyers for all of these targeted populations. It continues to keep opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi under house arrest a year after seizing them after they called for public demonstrations to express solidarity with the people of Tunisia and Egypt. It holds others for months incommunicado; the victims cannot learn the basis of their detention, nor can their families get information about their status.
- The regime has jammed foreign satellite TV channels, closed newspapers, shut down human rights organizations, purged universities of certain subjects, and charged dissidents and critics with various crimes against the state.
- The regime is cracking down harshly on computers and the internet – jailing bloggers; establishing a new cyber police force that checks how activists use their personal computers; blocking countless websites (including those of AI and popular social networking sites from within and outside Iran); attacking the websites of Twitter, Voice of America, and others; and creating state-run servers, search engines, and other tools for the internet.
- The regime is sentencing more people to death and making more public examples of its victims. It conducted about four times as many public executions last year than the year before, it included at least three juveniles among its victims, and it has sentenced hundreds more to death.
- The regime continues to torture the men and women in its prisons and detention centers. Prisoners are beaten on the soles of their feet while suspended upside down; burned with cigarettes and hot metal objects; subject to mock executions; raped, sometimes with implements; denied food, water, and medical treatment; and forced to make false confessions.
- Women suffer striking legal inequities. A woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s, a woman receives half of the compensation for injury or death as a man, and women are subject to flogging or stoning to death for engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage.
- The regime’s crackdown extends beyond Iran’s borders. It severely beats and otherwise harasses critics who live abroad, and it jails their relatives who still live in Iran. It has enacted laws against contacts with more than 60 foreign institutions, including media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
AI’s report paints a heart-wrenching picture. For it peppers these top-line findings with the graphic stories of people who have faced the harshness of Iran’s laws, the brutality of its prisons, and the mockery of its courts.
To all the other reasons to oppose a nuclear Tehran, let’s not forget the humanitarian one.