This article was published in collaboration with Slate.
As Iranian and Western negotiators try to nail down a deal over Tehran’s nuclear program by a Nov. 24 deadline, many in Iran’s long-suffering dissident community find themselves in an ironic position: They support a deal even though they are skeptical that it would improve their country’s human rights situation anytime soon.
This support grows less out of hope than out of fear—fear that failure to reach an agreement could have devastating consequences for human rights.
The hard-line political forces in Tehran most opposed to a nuclear compromise with the West also dominate the institutions—the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary, and various security bodies—that perpetrate the most serious rights abuses, ranging from summary executions to the detention of journalists, religious and ethnic minority activists, and Iranians with connections to the West. For most of the past decade, these hard-liners exploited times of tension with the West, such as periods when the threat of a U.S. military strike was amplified, or when Iranian nuclear scientists were being assassinated. For the hard-liners these were opportunities to crack down on regime critics, and expel them from universities, newspapers, government ministries, and city councils.
The fear among Iranian dissidents is that a breakdown in nuclear talks would prompt another wave of repression.