Iran’s New Crackdown

Review & Outlook Editorial

Wall Street Journal

March 17, 2017

Iran will hold another Potemkin election in May, and we can already predict the media narrative if one of the so-called hard-liners wins the Iranian Presidency. The blame will lie with the Trump Administration for failing to show sufficient respect for “moderate” incumbent Hasan Rouhani. Except Mr. Rouhani’s rule hasn’t been moderate.

Witness the latest repression targeting the mullahs’ usual suspects. Tehran’s Prosecutor-General on Sunday announced it had sentenced a couple to death because they had founded a new “cult.” The announcement was short on details, but the charges could mean anything from running a New Age yoga studio to a political-discussion club.

The authorities have also detained Ehsan Mazandarani, a reporter with the reformist newspaper Etemad (“Trust”), according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The nature of the charges against Mr. Mazandarani isn’t clear, and his relatives say he is on hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison. He had previously served most of a two-year sentence on trumped-up security charges.

Mr. Mazandarani’s detention followed last week’s arrest of dissident reporter Hengameh Shahidi, who also faces “national-security” charges. Ms. Shahidi has been an adviser to Mehdi Karroubi, one of two pro-democracy candidates in 2009’s fraudulent election. Mr. Karroubi and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi have been under house arrest since 2011. Having hinted at freeing them during his campaign, Mr. Rouhani has kept mum on their cases since coming to office in 2013.

Then there is the crackdown on Christians. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps late last month arrested two Iranian Catholics in northwestern Iran and seized their Bibles and prayer books. The incident came to light in a Fox News report last week.

It isn’t clear if the two Catholics, a mother and son, are converts, though that seems likely. Historic Christian communities such as Assyrians and Armenians are afforded second-class protection under Iranian law, while apostasy by Muslims is punishable by death. Despite some early rhetoric about tolerance, Mr. Rouhani has been unwilling or unable to improve conditions for religious minorities.

There is also the status of some half a dozen U.S. and U.K. dual citizens who have been taken hostage by the regime while visiting Iran. These include father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, both U.S. citizens, and Nazenin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen who is serving a five-year sentence on secret charges.

Nearly four decades after it was born, the Islamic Republic remains an unbending tyranny. The Trump White House shouldn’t spend energy hunting for moderate negotiating partners in the Islamist regime because there aren’t any. They’re under arrest.