By Erin Cunningham, The Washington Post

ISTANBUL — Escalating tensions with the United States have stirred nationalist sentiment in Iran, giving its hard-liners an opportunity to more fiercely target critics and settle old scores, rights advocates and analysts say.

The clampdown on activists, journalists and even politicians has served as a warning to pro-reform leaders who have pushed for a more tolerant and open Iran.

In recent weeks, hard-line judges have confined a reformist ex-president to his home, sentenced pro-reform leaders to prison, and opened a criminal investigation into BBC’s Persian-language channel for conspiracy to harm national security.

They also put travel restrictions on the family of late president Hashem Akbar Rafsanjani, another reformer, and on Wednesday an appeals court upheld a sentence for a pro-reform activist on national security charges.

The rivalries predate the current turmoil with the United States. But the moves also come as hostilities between the two countries have reached fever pitch. Last month, President Trump announced a new strategy to combat Iran, blasting its government as a “fanatical regime” that has “spread death, destruction, and chaos all around the globe.”

Trump also refused to certify Iran’s compliance with a nuclear deal it signed with world powers in 2015, threatening a landmark accord that curbed Iranian nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

“Trump’s Iran policy makes it much easier for Iranian hard-liners to put the country on a war footing, crack down on civil society, and invoke Iranian nationalism as a rallying cry,” said Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver.

Hard-liners in the judiciary and security and religious establishments “have been saying to the Iranian public: ‘see, we told you so’ ” about the hardening of U.S. policy, he said.

And that has given them space to “suffocate the reformists,” said Omid Memarian, deputy director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

But while Iran’s reformists have suffered far worse, the timing of the most recent moves has stoked particular concern.

Trump’s rhetoric may have offered an opening in which to ramp up pressure. But the convictions, arrests and other restrictions also follow the May reelection of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, a reformist ally who harshly condemned hard-liners’ more authoritarian tendencies during the campaign.

For years, the divide between hard-liners and reformists has colored — and fractured — Iranian politics, beginning with former president Mohammad Khatami’s efforts in the 1990s to nudge the …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – News

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Iran’s hard-liners use Trump’s rhetoric to target pro-reform rivals

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