Now, Iranian Vice President for Legal Affairs Elham Aminzadeh claims that the country has indeed filed such a lawsuit, in effect appealing to the United Nations for help in its dispute with the US. Domestic courts generally do not collect on judgments against foreign governments against their will, on the basis of the legal principle of sovereign immunity. But the US has made legislative exceptions for countries listed as state sponsors of terrorism, of which Iran is one.

It remains to be seen how the international court will rule on the current case, or whether the case will be accepted or even actively pursued by the Iranians. Prior to Aminzadeh’s announcement, some experts speculated that the warnings were only instances of bluster and that Tehran would seek to benefit from the confrontation, but without making the issue worse and thereby potentially threatening the overall climate of rapprochement between the two countries.

On the other hand, since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations last summer, Iranian rhetoric against the West has only intensified. It has been expressed sometimes through speeches by Revolutionary Guards and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and sometimes through actions, such as recent ballistic missile tests and the January capture of 10 American sailors who had strayed into Iranian territorial waters. In this context, the filing of an ICJ lawsuit may be a new form of the same rhetoric.

The post-nuclear-agreement confrontation with the West has not only had been outwardly directly, either. It has also had consequences for Iranian citizens, especially those who were swept up in mass arrests targeting people with supposed ties to the West. Some of these, including five who were arrested on November 2 alone, were accused of being members of a US-based infiltration network, although no evidence was publicly presented to corroborate these claims.

Four of those individuals were journalists and were generally understood to have been targeted for their work, which was partly focused on reformist news outlets.

IranWire tells a similar story about another of the five defendants, Afarin Chitsaz. In that case, the journalist was reportedly beaten by authorities and compelled to sign a false confession, leading to her receiving the longest of the four sentences, at 10 years. She was largely held in solitary confinement for six months, limiting her ability to communicate about her mistreatment.

Furthermore, Chitsaz’s mother indicates that her family “stayed silent for six months” in hopes that the issue would be resolved by authorities. But after the sentence and after the family learned about the extent of Chitsaz’s torture and its effects on her health, they began to speak out, thereby contributing to growing concerns about the situation of Iran’s journalists and the overall effect of Iran’s rhetorical backlash against Western affiliates and pro-Western attitudes in the era of the nuclear deal.