As the Trump administration tries to rally the world to face off with the Iranian regime on the multitude of threats it poses to world peace and security, Tehran is using every tool at its disposal to prevent a unified global front from taking shape.
Last week, Iran’s foreign minister tacitly threatened that Tehran would resume its nuclear program if European states doubled down on its ballistic missile program and terrorist ventures. This week, the regime tried a different tactic.
In a program broadcast on Iran’s state-owned TV, Ahmadreza Djalali, an imprisoned Iranian dual-national with Swedish citizenship, “confessed” to spying on Iran’s nuclear program for foreign countries. Given Iran’s history of extracting confessions from prisoners through torture and threats, it’s easy to deduce how reliable Djalali’s revelation is.
Sweden happens to be one of the nonpermanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Coincidentally, after U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley provided strong evidence that Iran was behind in a missile attack against Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport on November 4, Sweden’s U.N. ambassador refrained from confirming that Iran was the culprit.
Djalali is not the only foreign national the Iranian regime is holding as hostage and as a bargaining chip in its foreign policy. British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari Radcliff is also lingering in jail along with several American citizens arrested on dubious national security and espionage charges. Iran has a long history of using human rights abuses and hostage-taking to pursue its political goals. But its greatest hostages are its own people.
The rulers of Iran are well aware and acknowledge that the stark majority of the country’s population is yearning for regime change, and they’ve only managed to maintain their grip on power through sheer violence. Since the early 1980s, the Iranian regime has shut any form dissent down through incarceration, torture, and execution. The most recent instance was the 2009 uprisings that followed Iran’s contested presidential elections. Unfortunately, the international community lack of interest in addressing Iran’s blatant human rights violations enabled the regime to crack down on the protests with impunity.
However, the aspirations of the Iranian people for living in a free and democratic state have not lessened.
In a recent signed petition to the U.N. secretary-general, 30,000 Iranian citizens called for a probe into the mass murder of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. The event, which has become known as the “1988 massacre,” involved the execution of more than 30,000 dissidents in Iran’s prisons in the span of a few months. The executions were ordered and orchestrated by the highest authorities within the regime, many of whom continue to hold positions of power. The regime subsequently imposed a total media blackout on this crime against humanity, and the international community has refrained from further investigating the 1988 massacre.
Human rights is the weak spot of the Iranian regime,” a member of the 1988 Truth Group, which has been documenting the massacre and organized the petition, told me on secure chat.
“The West’s silence on human rights in Iran has been a boon to the regime, which has taken advantage of it not only to continue its crimes against the Iranian people, but also to threaten those countries as well,” added the correspondent, who did not want to be named due to security concerns. “A good place to start reversing course is calling for an investigation into the 1988 massacre and holding its perpetrators to account.”
The biggest force of change in Iran are the people themselves. They oppose the terrorist meddling in the Middle East region and reject its extremist ideology. They’ve been its longest-suffering victims. Neither do they have any stake in the regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
A focus on Iran’s human rights record will empower this force for change and weaken the regime’s grip on power both inside and outside the country. This will be a critical component of any firm global policy toward Iran.