Political repression is old news. Thuggish regimes have been holding their citizens prisoner for centuries. But Iran's government now is borrowing an innovative Soviet and Nazi tactic: targeting family members of dissenters, even those living in the U.S.
Reports the Wall Street Journal:
His first impulse was to dismiss the ominous email as a prank, says a young Iranian-American named Koosha. It warned the 29-year-old engineering student that his relatives in Tehran would be harmed if he didn't stop criticizing Iran on Facebook.
Two days later, his mom called. Security agents had arrested his father in his home in Tehran and threatened him by saying his son could no longer safely return to Iran.
"When they arrested my father, I realized the email was no joke," said Koosha, who asked that his full name not be used.
Tehran's leadership faces its biggest crisis since it first came to power in 1979, as Iranians at home and abroad attack its legitimacy in the wake of June's allegedly rigged presidential vote. An opposition effort, the "Green Movement," is gaining a global following of regular Iranians who say they never previously considered themselves activists.
The regime has been cracking down hard at home. And now, a Wall Street Journal investigation shows, it is extending that crackdown to Iranians abroad as well.
In recent months, Iran has been conducting a campaign of harassing and intimidating members of its diaspora world-wide -- not just prominent dissidents -- who criticize the regime, according to former Iranian lawmakers and former members of Iran's elite security force, the Revolutionary Guard, with knowledge of the program.
Unfortunately, there is little the West can do. Despite the seemingly common belief in hawkish circles that Washington merely need speak the word and other nations will obey, there is no magic wand that President Obama can wave to democratize Iran. And refusing to engage Iran over its nuclear program would do nothing to aid human rights activists while losing the admittedly faint hope of resolving the issue diplomatically.
However, there is reason for hope. The crackdown bespeaks desperation. The militarized regime continues to lose credibility, including religious backing. Reports the New York Times:
Iran’s most senior cleric denounced the role of the volunteer militia force known as the Basij in the crackdown against protesters, saying the force’s actions were against religion and “in the path of Satan.”
The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, condemned the force in a statement posted on an opposition Web site, mowjcamp.com, decreeing that “the assailants have acted against religion and must pay blood money” to those who were wounded or to their families.
Ultimately, the Iranian people can count only on themselves to achieve freedom. But people of good will around the world should offer their support in the continuing battle against tyranny.