Where the Dead Are Considered Dangerous

The world will never have a peaceful Iran until it has a free


Wall Steet Journal, 6/15/2011


At last month’s Group of Eight meeting in France, world leaders observed that the “Arab Spring” actually began in Iran. They were right: Today’s Middle Eastern uprisings began when Neda Agha Soltan was shot to death in the streets of Tehran in the summer of 2009. She died with her eyes open as millions of people poured into the streets demanding change after rigged presidential elections that June. The demonstrators received little support from the democracies of Europe or America.

Since then the would-be Iranian Spring has been brutally and persistently suppressed, though the country’s democrats have persevered. Neda’s state-sanctioned murder has been followed by hundreds more. Just this month came the news of activist Haleh Sahabi, who died of a heart attack after being beaten by plain-clothes security forces. Sahabi had been attending the funeral of her father, former parliamentarian and prominent dissident Esatollah Sahabi, who recently died of a brain hemorrhage. The funeral for Haleh Sahabi attracted still more demonstrators, who were again attacked and arrested by Tehran’s agents.

Then there are those who survive their encounters with the Islamic Republic. Saeed Pourheydar, a reformist journalist and ex-political prisoner who recently fled Iran, used a recent interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran to paint a gruesome picture of life inside an Iranian prison. Mr. Pourheydar said that treatment includes hanging detainees upside down from a ceiling, dropping detainees into icy water, lashing them with cables and squeezing male detainees’ testicles. Prison officials also engage in mock executions, while rape—or simply threats—against the daughters and wives of male detainees are another sadistic norm.

The cruelty of the Iranian regime has only intensified following the initial 2009 demonstrations. But such treatment is nothing new to followers of the Bahai faith, against whom the Islamic Republic has pursued a systematic policy of harassment and aggression since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Bahais have long been kept out of schools and employment, and last month 30 of them were arrested for the crime of attending an online higher-learning institution.

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a summit meeting last week noted their “very serious concern” about Iran’s nuclear program. While it’s good to know that Tehran’s international depredations remain on the minds of democratic leaders, it’s not enough. A regime under which daughters are unable to attend their fathers’ funerals and dissidents are considered dangerous even after they’re dead is not one with which matters of nuclear proliferation can be rationally debated.

The world will never have a peaceful Iran until it has a free Iran, and the West needs to do more to bring human-rights issues to the forefront of its dealings with Tehran. Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel said they were waiting for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report this week before considering any “additional steps” against the Islamic Republic. It’s hard to see why Haleh Sahebi’s recent death isn’t reason enough.

Mr. Mobasseri is director of the Iranian human-rights group Neda for Free Iran. Mr. Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East and co-founder of CyberDissidents.org.


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