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But Risks of Hardline Backlash Remain

The understanding reached on Iran’s nuclear program on April 2 is a welcome development, averting at least for now, an inexorable descent into confrontation, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.

This initial agreement also presents renewed opportunities for human rights. “Political space in Iran, long consumed by the nuclear conflict, should now be freed up for the discussion of civil liberties in the country,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the Campaign.

Since Rouhani assumed the presidency of Iran in August 2013, his government has not lessened domestic repression in the country, despite pledges during his campaign to do so. Moreover, he has largely refrained from publicly taking on hardliners who have closed the political and social space still further. His supporters have said the nuclear negotiations must take precedence over domestic issues.

Iran’s domestic politics, says Ghaemi “has been frozen, awaiting the outcome of the negotiations.” The agreement, he argues, presents an opportunity for attention to begin to return to the state of basic rights and freedoms in the country. “It will have the potential to validate voices of moderation and embolden those who have called for a loosening of the political and cultural environment in Iran,” he added.

Ghaemi noted, however, that intense political jockeying between hardline and more moderate forces is also likely.

“Iran could be roiled in political tension in the wake of the agreement, and even more so if a more permanent agreement is reached in June,” he said. “Hardliners will push to maintain political relevancy, while pent up demand for basic rights, long frozen as Iran locked horns with the West, will rise to the surface.”

As a result, the agreement could also mean increased potential for a crackdown on political dissent as hardliners mount a rear guard action to maintain their grip on power.

The outcome of this political struggle will not only affect human rights in Iran, it will have implications for the nuclear deal as well. If hardliners are able to maintain the current repression, they will feel emboldened to prevent a successful implementation of the nuclear agreement, and to silence the voices of the accord’s supporters.

The ultimate success of the agreement thus depends on the ability of Iranian society to express its views. And it has made its preferences consistently clear: every poll undertaken has confirmed Iranian society’s strong support for the nuclear negotiations, and the resounding electoral win of the centrist Hassan Rouhani reflects society’s desire for greater political and social freedoms.

“Iran’s negotiating partners must confront any attempt at wholesale repression inside the country that may follow this agreement,” said Ghaemi. “Otherwise they will not only be colluding in the denial of the basic rights of the Iranian people, they will also be undermining the nuclear accord and setting the stage for yet more instability in a region already choked with strife.”