Last Thursday Iranian journalist Marzieh Rasouli was sentenced to two years and 50 lashes for purportedly publishing anti-state propaganda and disturbing public order. Rasouli, who writes on arts and culture for a number of reformist papers, is only the most recent target of heavy-handed state measures which have also included a staggering 325 executions since January.
When Hassan Rouhani won the Iranian presidency last summer, many hoped that his administration would be able to improve Iran’s human rights practices. Unfortunately, this has not yet been the case. Rouhani has been empowered almost exclusively in matters relating to Iran’s economic problems and the possibility of solving them through the nuclear negotiations. Hardliners control most of the rest of the Iranian government.
There is no way to know for sure whether a successful conclusion to ongoing nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran will advance the cause of human rights across Iran, but the failure of such an agreement, and the further empowering of Iranian hardliners that would result, will almost certainly lead to the opposite. It’s likely that a nuclear agreement and an end to comprehensive international sanctions will lift some of the daily burdens currently placed on Iranians and allow for more engagement with the outside world. At a bare minimum more stability and openness is a good thing. It can also be an incubator for social change.
Iranian human rights activists agree. A study released on Monday by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) reports that 21 leading Iranian intellectuals and human rights defenders were asked if they support the P5+1 nuclear negotiations and what effect a successful end would have on political and social rights in the country. The study found unanimous support for the negotiations, even among those who did not believe that much else would change.
A majority of participants did, however, also respond that an agreement would bring with it other tangible improvements. Fakhrosadat Mohtashamipour, a reformist politician, held that “if sanctions are lifted, [and] people’s sense of insecurity from lack of money is lessened, [then] we will certainly have more space to focus on human rights and civil liberties.” With a broader perspective journalist Issa Saharkhiz explained, “if there is a successful nuclear negotiation, then the Iranian state will find itself in a position where it will be forced to be accountable to criticisms of its human rights and civil liberties policies.”
The ICHRI concludes that the study affirms that “neither the state of human rights nor the views of Iranian civil society can be used as a tool to oppose nuclear negotiations.” Taken another way, the study also shows that even Iran’s sharpest domestic critics and most ardent activists see value in a successful end to negotiations: for them past strategies of hard containment have not worked and there are now no other alternative paths.
Noam Back is an intern with the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress focusing on Middle East issues.