The shutting down of the offices of a human rights group in Tehran is a matter of deep concern. The concern is heightened by the fact that the group is headed by the Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, who has for long been campaigning in defence of civil liberties in her country. Her strained relations with the government, which has seen her as a symbol of anti-Iranian propaganda in the West, have naturally made matters difficult for both sides.
The crackdown on Mrs. Ebadi's human rights group is unfortunate because it holds up the image of a government unable or unwilling to accept dissent. The fact that Iranian police did not even show a warrant for the closure of the group's office but only a number on the warrant gives out a wrong signal on the part of the government. There is little question that the Nobel laureate's relentless criticism of the government, which she has accused of systematically violating human rights, has riled the government. There are people, a very large body of them, in the country who see hardly any difference between what Ebadi has been saying and what governments in the West have been doing in terms of dealing with Iran. The sensitivities of the regime are therefore understandable. And yet there is a clear case for democratic expression that Ebadi's rights body as well as others have been making for years, especially since the end of the moderate government led by former president Mohammad Khatami.
The Iranian regime has been under international pressure over its nuclear programme for years. On top of that, its human rights record has drawn flak. Given such realities, it will do President Ahmadinejad and the administration he leads much good if human rights groups are allowed to work without fetters in the larger and long-term interest of the Iranian people and government.