From WSJ, MARCH 3, 2011, by Emanuele Ottolenghi, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of "Iran: The Looming Crisis" (Profile Books, 2010):
The West should show the same moral clarity against Tehran's human-rights abuses as it has against Gadhafi's.
While the world focuses on Libya's popular uprising and Moammar Gadhafi's murderous response, Iran has also—far from the international spotlight—been ratcheting up its repression.
In the last few days, Tehran has moved to arrest the two leading figures of Iran's opposition, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and has reportedly transferred them from house arrest to a political prison run by the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Mass protests have erupted again, in open defiance of the regime, and are spreading far beyond Tehran.
But Iran's rulers already showed in 2009 that they take no chances and no prisoners when it comes to shielding themselves from their people's wrath. Another bloodbath now is not hard to imagine.
Western democracies have been quick to condemn Gadhafi, and have passed a number of measures against him and his regime since Tripoli's crackdown began. By contrast, Iran's violent political repression is only part of the latest, gory wave that has been ongoing for more than a year and a half, and yet there appears no urgency in the West to adopt human-rights sanctions against Tehran.
There are compelling reasons to rectify this policy discrepancy.
Like Libya, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a place where dissent has been put down, with varying degrees of brutality, for decades—since the early days of the 1979 Revolution. There, torture is rife and the family members of dissidents are intimidated, kidnapped and sometimes raped; hundreds of political prisoners, minorities, homosexuals and women die at the hangman's hands every year, following hasty trials held in utter disregard for the most elementary rules of fairness and justice; and cruelty is dispensed regularly for the sole purpose of instilling fear in the population.
Until Iranians openly challenged their regime following the June 2009 fraudulent elections, Western democracies did little to question Iran's treatment of its own people. But then, Iran erupted. Its people, chanting "death to the dictator," made it clear even to the most obtuse observers that their rulers kept power by force, not consent. Western leaders offered words of condemnation, but little else. Now is their second chance to show they're not indifferent to Iranian people's suffering, by hitting Tehran with similar measures to the ones they're imposing on Gadhafi.
Last week U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, gave a decent start, sponsoring a resolution calling for human rights to become a key tool of U.S. foreign policy toward Iran—a call the Obama Administration should now heed.
The European Union, meanwhile, still has Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on its travel-ban list, on account of his recent role as the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Since his appointment as Iranian Foreign Minister, there has been talk of lifting the travel ban to allow Salehi to fulfill his stately functions. But at a time when Iran's entire state apparatus is intent on silencing the opposition and crushing peaceful street protests, Salehi should not be given the gift of travel.
The same travel ban, along with asset freezes, should immediately be slapped on other Iranian officials, starting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and all the other figures who bear command responsibility for human-rights violations. Obvious candidates include Iranian "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council; and their gaggle of policy advisors.
The EU should not stop at the top brass—for every order given at the top to fire on protesters, torture prisoners, coerce confessions, issue harsh sentences and otherwise intimidate, violate and abuse innocents, an army of enforcers carries out the deed. So the EU should next name hundreds of Iranian officials at various levels of authority: Basij and Revolutionary Guards local commanders, judges in political trials, prison wardens, and their mid-level bosses in Iran's ministries of Intelligence, Interior and Justice, for a start. These officials should also be barred from travelling, and their assets frozen. International arrest warrants should be contemplated against them for crimes against their own people. And diplomatic immunity—which the U.K. has now lifted for Gadhafi—should be similarly denied to all top Iranian officials.
The EU should immediately recall all its member states' ambassadors who are still in Tehran, and refuse to return them until Messrs. Mousavi and Karroubi are released. The same applies to other Western countries, such as Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway, South Korea and Switzerland, who enjoy full diplomatic relations with Iran.
The EU, along with other Western democracies, should also move to undermine Iran's standing in international forums. The farce of Libya sitting as a full member of the U.N.'s Human Rights Council finally came to an end this week, but an equally absurd spectacle continues with Iran's membership in the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. May it come to an abrupt end.
Beyond that, the West needs to invest in helping the Iranian opposition. The country's battered democrats desperately need free information, which the West can provide through boosting its Farsi-language radio and television broadcasts inside Iran. They also need the communication technology to bypass government strictures and keep them safe from Tehran's digital monitors, which the West could help provide with licenses to export the relevant machinery and transfer it to the right people inside Iran. Finally, Iran's dissidents need a safety net in the West for those who manage to escape; political asylum should be offered to those who flee Iran.
International sanctions are no substitute for the courage the Iranian people need to confront their tyrants. But sanctions would offer them some succor, and would finally extract a price for the drunken orgy of violence that has gone on in Iran for far too long.
In a rare moment of moral clarity, last week Western policy makers adopted punitive measures against Gadhafi. Here's hoping that same clarity now informs their policy with the Iranian regime.