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On Human Rights Day, Washington Should Challenge Iran’s Domestic Repression

On Human Rights Day, Washington Should Challenge Iran’s Domestic Repression

On Sunday, December 10, the United Nations will celebrate Human Rights Day, which commemorates the day the UN General Assembly, in 1948, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This milestone offers the Trump administration an opportunity to address a longstanding human rights problem with key U.S. national security implications: Iran’s continuing repression of its own people.

In the years since the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran’s pervasive violations of human rights have proceeded unabated. Despite the reputation of Iran’s recently reelected president, Hassan Rouhani, as a moderate, Tehran has executed hundreds of people annually; used flogging, binding, amputation, and stoning as punishments; arrested journalists, political activists, and human rights defenders; and enforced wide-ranging discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities, particularly the Baha’i.

The regime’s conduct stems from its radical Islamist ideology, which views Iran as the vanguard of Shiite Islam in a Middle East dominated by Sunni states and their U.S. patron. In this sense, Iran regards internal dissent as a form of Western cultural infiltration that seeks to undermine the regime’s legitimacy from within. This conspiratorial worldview also guides Tehran’s campaign of aggression throughout the Middle East, which seeks to reshape the largely Sunni region in accordance with Shiite doctrine.

Consequently, by challenging Iran’s human rights abuses, Washington can advance U.S. interests by discrediting the ideology that animates Tehran’s malign conduct in other arenas. 

To mark Human Rights Days, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies is pleased to present a selection of key publications from the past year that assesses how Iran’s Islamist ideology influences its domestic repression. These writings demonstrate that a robust U.S. effort to combat Iran’s human rights abuses fulfills not only a humanitarian imperative, but also a vital national security interest.

 

Iran’s Repression of Foreign Journalists Intensifies

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

November 16, 2017 

Iran’s targeting of foreign journalists has intensified. In recent weeks and months, the regime has conducted cyber attacks against Iranian journalists abroad, launched a criminal investigation of BBC Persian, and falsely charged a British-Iranian for conspiring against the regime by teaching journalism. Tehran’s conduct reflects its longstanding fear that journalists constitute Western agents who seek to infiltrate the country with foreign ideologies contrary to Shiite Islam.

 

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New UN Report Highlights Iran’s Continued Human Rights Abuses

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

November 1, 2017 

Iran’s repression of its own people has continued largely unabated, the United Nations indicated in a new report presented to the UN General Assembly last week. The semi-annual publication, authored by Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, paints a grim portrait of an Islamist regime committed to the suppression of dissent that contradicts its radical ideology.

 

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Tehran Sentences U.S. Hostage to 10 Years in Prison

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

July 20, 2017

 

Tehran has sentenced another Western national to a lengthy prison term on spurious espionage charges. The incarceration of Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-American graduate student at Princeton University first arrested last summer, not only reflects Iran’s conspiratorial fears of Western infiltration, but also marks a likely effort to extort Washington for further concessions.

 

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The Ideological Battleground of Iran’s Internet

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

July 11, 2017 

A leading advocate for internet freedom recently began his fifth hunger strike in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. The incarceration of Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident, reflects Tehran’s ongoing efforts to restrict cyber space, which the regime regards as a threat not merely to its survival, but also to the Islamic character of the people it rules.

 

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Iran’s Executions Continue After Rouhani’s Reelection

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

June 7, 2017

 

Iran has executed at least 20 people since President Hassan Rouhani’s reelection on May 19. This grim statistic offers continuity with his first term in office, which saw some 3,000 executions. It also suggests that Rouhani – notwithstanding his reputation as a moderate – remains unwilling or unable to reverse the regime’s most egregious domestic abuses.

 

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Iran’s Religious War against the Baha’i

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

May 24, 2017

 

May 14 marked the ninth anniversary of Iran’s imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders for the crime of practicing their faith. This grim milestone reflects the Baha’i’s status, in the words of the United Nations, as the country’s “most severely persecuted religious minority.” In Tehran’s eyes, the Baha’i faith constitutes not a religion, but a Western-backed political movement that seeks to overthrow the regime and discredit Islam.

 

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The Ideological Crucible of Iran’s Hunger Strikes

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

May 12, 2017

 

Hunger strikes in Iranian prisons are hardly new. But the international attention that accompanied one recent strike has exposed rare cracks in the regime’s theocratic armor, and offers a key lesson for the United States. By publicly highlighting the plight of Iran’s hunger strikers, Washington can weaken Tehran’s resolve to resist their demands.

 

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Trump must challenge Iran’s ongoing human rights abuses

Tzvi Kahn

The Hill

April 27, 2017

 

“The real war” with the West, Iran’s supreme leader declared in a recent speech, “is a cultural war.” It unfolds not on Middle East battlefields, but on the “many television and internet networks which are busy diverting the hearts and minds of our youth away from religion, our sacred beliefs, morality, modesty and the like.” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would know. After all, thousands of Iranians languish in his regime’s notorious prisons for the high crime of opposing its radical Islamist ideology.

 

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Iran’s Ideological War on Homosexuality

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

April 27, 2017

 

Iranian police raided a private party this month, arresting more than 30 people on charges of sodomy, alcohol consumption, and psychedelic drug use. The move reflects the daily perils that homosexuals face in the Islamic Republic, which regards them as enemies of the state who threaten its revolutionary ideals.

 

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Iran’s Presidential Election and the Role of Women

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

April 21, 2017

 

More than 130 women and nearly 1,500 men registered to run in the Iranian presidential election next month. But on Thursday, Iran’s Guardian Council – an unelected, 12-member body that screens candidates for loyalty to the regime’s Islamist ideology – rejected all of the women and allowed only six men to compete. Women’s exclusion from the presidency reflects their second-class role across the Islamic Republic, where they face a range of discriminatory laws.

 

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U.S. Sanctions Brother of Qassem Soleimani

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

April 18, 2017

 

The Treasury Department on Thursday added two Iranian human rights abusers to its sanctions list, marking the first new human rights-related designations since 2014. The move reflects a renewed U.S. effort to target key drivers of Tehran’s domestic repression, which the Obama administration largely abandoned after nuclear negotiations began.

 

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Iran Announces New Charges Against Iranian-American

Tzvi Kahn

FDD Policy Brief

March 14, 2017

 

Iran recently brought new charges against an Iranian-American and his Iranian wife, accusing them of hosting parties in Tehran. The move represents a direct challenge to the Trump administration, which has pledged to secure the release of Iranian-Americans incarcerated in the regime’s notorious prisons.