May 15, 2013 10:38AM

Iran: Political and Religious Persecution Proceeds Apace

The Islamic Republic of Iran will soon hold a presidential election. The result is in doubt—the clerical elite itself is split—but the country’s overall direction unfortunately is not. Iran has a deteriorating human rights record. Although Tehran is not the bloodiest or most tyrannical government in the Middle East, repression is increasing and the space available to regime opponents is diminishing.

Most attention has been focused on the unpleasant potential of an Iranian nuclear weapon. There is good reason to maintain an active campaign to forestall such a prospect. However, war almost certainly is a worse option. Bombastic rhetoric is common in Tehran, but the diverse political and religious figures now bitterly battling over power and wealth seem pragmatic, not suicidal. There is no reason to believe that the United States (as well as Israel) cannot deter Iran even if the latter developed an atomic bomb.

Iran’s worsening religious persecution is far less publicized. As I note in my latest Forbes online column, Tehran has generated a not‐​so‐​enviable record in brutalizing religious minorities—Baha’is, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Sunni Muslims. Such behavior belies a lack of confidence in the dominant theology which underlies the regime.

Sadly, there isn’t a lot the U.S. government can do. But people of goodwill around the world might achieve more. As I argue in Forbes online:

The West’s leverage over Iran is minimal. Some activists have criticized the Obama administration for not doing more, but it is not clear what more could be done, given the sanctions already imposed regarding the nuclear issue.

There may be a better hope of using international popular pressure. Explained [Indiana University Professor Jamsheed] Choksy, “Despite their heavy‐​handed actions, the Islamic Republic’s hard‐​liners seek to present their rule as benevolent and humane,” and therefore the regime has been “exhibiting rising concern about negative public perceptions of its rule.”

Individuals, groups, and activists, especially those which have not been at the forefront of the campaign to sanction and even bomb Iran, should press the Iranian government and other entities, from media to business, and protest the manifold violations of human rights. Visiting officials should be embarrassed by protestors. The regime should understand that its fight against sanctions for its nuclear activities continues to be undermined by its brutality at home.

Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rappoteur, confirmed that public pressure works. In March he noted that “At least a dozen lives were saved because of the intervention of international opinion.” More such action is needed.

In 1979 the Iranian people overthrew the Shah, a corrupt thug long supported by Washington. Alas, the Iranian revolution delivered even more tyranny. The Iranian people desperately await a revolution which actually liberates.