It has been widely reported that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei barred his officials from engaging in any negotiations with the US beyond last summer’s nuclear agreement, and also that he has generally been engaged in a push for more intensive anti-American rhetoric and resistance to cultural “infiltration.” Diehl suggests that these efforts may bear fruit by keeping Western ideologies and politics at bay in spite of newfound economic openness.
But the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran suggested on Monday that Khamenei’s actions are desperate indicators that the regime is “terrified” of the real prospect of re-engagement with the international community. Consequently, it is understood that Iranian hardliners are moving to crackdown not only on pro-Western attitudes inside the country but also on any efforts to encourage domestic reform.
By both these means, the regime is apparently attempting to enforce the truth of what Khamenei claimed to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on November 1: “The foreign policy of Iran is based on long-term interests, principles and values. It does not change with the coming and going of different administrations [holding] various political outlooks. Administrations only have a role in tactics and executing foreign policy principles.”
Several pro-reform journalists and Western-affiliated businesspeople have been arrested in Iran in recent days, and the International Campaign notes that many others have been intimidated by security agencies and placed on the shortlist for possible arrest in the near future.
Another report by the same rights organization quoted the son of one of the recently imprisoned journalists as saying that the supreme leader is prosecuting a personal vendetta against anyone who has spoken critically of him. Indeed, that journalist, Isa Saharkhiz has been charged with the familiar political offense of “insulting the supreme leader,” as well as the similarly vague offenses of “propaganda against the state” and “intention to disrupt national security.”
The International Campaign and various other rights groups and individual activists have urged the international community to give renewed attention to the issues of Iran’s human rights violations at home and abroad now that the nuclear agreement is concluded and is moving toward implementation. This advocacy can be expected to grow more urgent as the apparent crackdown continues.
Some politicians in the US and other Western governments have attempted to keep attention focused on at least some aspect of these issues even during the nuclear negotiations. Last week, for instance, Republican Senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz held a hearing on the topic of Iranian and Palestinian terrorism against US targets, in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights, and Federal Courts.
According to The Tower, testimony at the hearing included advocacy in favor of pending legislation that would forestall Iran’s promised sanctions relief until victims of past incidences of Iranian-backed terrorism had been compensated in line with former judgements in US courts. This is one of several examples of ongoing congressional efforts to either halt or diminish the sanctions relief that many believe will provide Iran with resources for more such foreign attacks and domestic crackdowns.
Furthermore, some critics of the current policy of rapprochement fear that by legitimizing the existing Iranian regime, the US will be helping to extend or exacerbate policies that contribute to poor human rights in a more circuitous fashion. As one example, IranWire issued a report on Monday regarding the worsening crisis of prostitution among young Iranian women. The article cited recent studies as confirming that the situation began to seriously deteriorate after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and that many girls at risk of prostitution “have fallen victim to bad cultural, political and social policies in recent years,” especially in recent years.