As autocracies fell in the Arab world this year, the best that could be said of Iran is what did not happen. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman flogged and sentenced to death for adultery, and whose case The Times first drew attention to last year, fortunately still lives.
But our objection to the human rights record of the Iranian regime extends far beyond this case. The theocratic state ruthlessly persecutes its religious minorities. The largest non-Muslim religion in Iran, the Baha'i faith, is under attack. Omid Djalili, a Baha'i comedian, recounts in The Times today its adherents' plight (see Times2). Seven Baha'i leaders were imprisoned in 2008 on patently contrived charges of espionage. Their incarceration is not only an outrage but an inducement for Tehran to intensify repression.
A regime that subscribes to crude conspiracy theories about Jews all too predictably transfers those fantasies to other faiths. It denounces the Baha'i as tools of Zionism and enemies of Islam.
Propaganda, however fanciful, should never be underestimated as a tool of repression. Chillingly, Romeo Dallaire, a gallant Canadian soldier who attempted, as head of UN forces in Rwanda in 1994, to warn the world of the impending genocide, finds parallels in the present discrimination against the Baha'i of Iran. They are barred from higher education and government service. The remorseless message that some Iranians are non-citizens has sobering precedents in recent history.
Fortunately Iran's predominantly young population has long seen through the hollowness of the rulers' ideology. Western governments should stand with them and insist on the fundamental right to freedom of religion and worship.