With tensions mounting over Iran’s nuclear program, the West has dealt the Tehran regime crippling blows on several fronts, including through sanctions, the targeted killing of scientists, and cyber operations such as the Stuxnet virus. Tehran is no doubt reeling but regime leaders have spotted a silver lining: The West’s single-minded focus on the nuclear dossier has permitted them to widen their violations of human rights.
Support for human rights in Iran is more than a moral duty for any democratic nation. It should also be a strategic pillar of the West’s policy toward the Islamic Republic. The Iranian people’s full voice will never be heard as long as the repression continues. By speaking out, the United States and other Western powers can reassure Iranians that they have allies, empowering them to continue fighting for their cause: a free and democratic Iran—a cause shared by the Iranian people and the West.
On the human-rights question, persistent and steady action offers the best way for the West to demonstrate its concern over Iranian abuses. Such action will also prevent the Islamic Republic from labeling Western sanctions as something they are not intended to be: a Western attack on the Iranian public.