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We must challenge Iran’s human rights abuses

PUBLISHED: 13:10 26 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:31 26 October 2017

The Ratcliffe Family together before Nazanin and Gabriella were seized in Iran

The Ratcliffe Family together before Nazanin and Gabriella were seized in Iran

Archant

Ever since the UK became one of the six parties to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear programme, the British Government – and the West as a whole - has been opening itself up to criticism that it is neglecting the issue of Tehran’s record of human rights abuses.

Nothing has been a more serious test of the West’s will than Iran’s escalating human rights violations and crackdowns on domestic dissent.

In the run-up to Iranian presidential elections in May, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) stepped up its arrests of dissidents, civil activists, independent journalists, and other threats to the country’s hard-liners.

The Iranian regime continues to make it plain, both at home and abroad, that it will not compromise its repressive, theocratic ideology for the sake of the international community. Meanwhile, much of the international community has sent exactly the opposite message: that it is willing to overlook even the most basic principles of modern, democratic societies, for the sake of promoting re-engagement.

From the perspective of anyone defending human rights and free expression, the West is failing that test.

The leading Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, released a report in March detailing the “rise of the Revolutionary Guards’ financial empire”, detailing how hard-line forces, such as the IRGC, had taken control over much of the economy through a vast network of front companies – companies the West is now free to invest in.

In effect, trade with Iran only empowers these forces.

Turning a blind eye has consequences for British nationals too.

Iran often targets dual nationals who have committed no crime, such as the British-Iranian mother and charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a Hampstead resident - who initially faced a five year sentence for over a trumped up charge and potentially now 16 years on the whim of the regime. The ‘evidence’ presented during her trial was apparently illegal under Iranian law, and solely based on ‘intelligence’ supplied by the IRGC.

The UK is not alone in facing criticism. The same charges have been levelled at the US, France, Germany, and other parties that were not involved in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action but that nonetheless eagerly seek to benefit from its re-opening of the Iranian market.

President Trump has since stated that Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah (groups both designated as terrorist organisations in the US and EU) undermines the spirit of the nuclear deal and has made clear he intends not to certify it.

Human rights advocates need not demand that the West give up its gains altogether. There are measures that can be taken that stop short of simply withdrawing from all economic interactions with the Islamic Republic.

The IRGC is a major player in Iran, and the US Government appears to be poised to blacklist it as a foreign terrorist organisation. Other Western countries should look to follow suit and do everything in their power to prevent Western capital from ending up in the hands of the most violent, hard-line factions of the Iranian regime.

The West needs to do more to pressure Tehran to end its human rights crackdown as well as safeguard the lives and rights of political prisoners already languishing in its jails.

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