October 20, 2009

The real story on the Iran “democracy fund”

The BBC has taken a fresh look at a story the Boston Globe first ran a couple weeks ago about the demise of the Iran “Democracy Fund,” a program started under the Bush administration to support regime change in Iran.
The story provoked an outcry. Individuals such as Senator Joseph Lieberman and the neoconservative activist Michael Rubin blasted the administration for the cuts. Since then, the Wall Street Journal has called it “preemptive appeasement.” Other news organizations, like Fox News and Haraatz, breathlessly retold the story of the United States turning its back on democracy in Iran.
But the story isn’t so simple, as the BBC reveals:

“While the move has been criticised by neo-conservatives in the US, it has been welcomed by Iranian human rights and pro-democracy activists.”

The BBC cites several people, including Abdolfattah Soltani, spokesman for the Defenders of Human Rights Center (Shirin Ebadi’s organization) and a human rights lawyer.

He welcomes the change in policy: “These US funds are going to people who have very little to do with the real struggle for democracy in Iran and our civil society activists never received such funds. The end to this program will have no impact on our activities whatsoever.”

The Globe and subsequent stories focused on seemingly unjustifiable cuts in funding. But many of these articles didn’t talk to human rights defenders in Iran, nor did it scrutinize how the money given to groups in the US actually had affected those inside the country. The story from the people on the inside is quite different: they don’t welcome measures that puts them under additional risk. Thanks to the BBC report, we know that the people putting their necks on the line to defend human rights in Iran apparently did not see the move to cut this fund as US abandonment of democracy in Iran.
Kudos to the BBC on this for digging deeper into this story and actually talking to the people most affected by these policies.

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