A prominent Iranian rights defender argues that sanctions should target violators of human rights in Iran, such as the Revolutionary Guards, not the people.
Speaking to Iran International TV on Friday, Narges Mohammadi said Western sanctions have failed to weaken Iran's oppressive regime but led to a "disastrous weakening of the Iranian middle class as the driving force of democracy".
The sanctions failed, she argued, because they were not "targeted" and Western politicians did not have adequate knowledge of the Islamic Republic system.
"It appears that the West lacks a proper understanding of the hypocrisy of the Islamic Republic and that it is a dictatorial government with systemic financial corruption that can use various tools [of repression]," she told Iran International.
There has been huge social media controversy over Mohammadi's views over sanctions after a Washington Post opinion article Wednesday referring to interviews with her in which she said sanctions weaken Iran’s civil society.
Critics attacked Mohammadi accusing her of defending the lifting of US sanctions, and her approach benefits the regime and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) which is also under US sanctions.
The controversy gained more attention among Iranians because the Washington Post article coincided with Iran’s demand from the Biden administration to remove the IRGC from its foreign terrorist list as a condition for the revival of the 2015 nuclear agreement.
A man was shot in the face by security forces using a shotgun 'birdshot' during protests in Esfahan, on November 26, 2021
Mohammadi told Iran International that in the interview with the Washington Post she had said that she considers the IRGC as an oppressive force and a violator of human rights and that it must be targeted by the international community by various means including sanctions but not all her comments had been included in the article.
Mohammadi also explained that she believes the international community has the duty to target "any person or group" in the Islamic Republic that violates human rights to support the Iranian people and civil society and one of the ways to target the violators is using sanctions.
Mohammadi added that the IRGC's "political, terroristic, and economic investments and activities", both inside and outside the country, result in oppression of the Iranian civil society and therefore it must be placed on the list of "targeted" international sanctions along with other entities of the Islamic Republic that violate human rights such as its Judiciary and Police.
Some harshly attacked her integrity and questioned her honesty as a regime critic, while others said she should have been more careful during the interview with the author of the Washington Post opinion article, Jason Rezaian.
Mohammadi has an eight-year sentence hanging over her head for supposed “crimes against national security”, for her activities as a human rights activist and may be hauled off to prison any moment to serve it.
Cofounder and chair of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, Mohammadi has been to jail several times over the past two decades. She was freed from Evin prison in September 2020 after serving five and half years when she had no contact with her husband and children for long periods of time.
But one of Mohammadi's supporters in a tweet Thursday said she could not understand why she was criticized so strongly. "She has said that sanctions destroy the civil society. Do you doubt this statement? wrote Banafsheh Jamali, a feminist activist. "People are not going to have any demands other than economic ones when they are in dire need of food to survive," she added.
Some argue that it is difficult to put in place effective sanctions that do not lead to economic pressure on the people, and mention the example of Russia. If the government is supposed to be pressured to stop a certain behavior, it must feel economic pressure, which invariably also impacts the people.
Others say that the civil society Mohammadi refers to has not been able to reform the Islamic Republic and has been badly suppressed, so sanctions are the remaining tool to bring about a change.