Under cover of the international furor over its nuclear activities and its support for Hezbollah, Iran is trying to silence its most prominent human-rights activist, and, by extension, all of the Iranians who speak for fundamental rights.

Shirin Ebadi, the lawyer who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, has been threatened with arrest unless she closes the Center for Protecting Human Rights in Tehran. The center provides free legal representation to journalists, students and dissidents who face prosecution for peaceful assembly and criticizing the government. Ms. Ebadi and the center’s lawyers have represented Iran’s leading dissident, Akbar Ganji. Most recently, Ms. Ebadi has been defending women who say they were beaten and detained by the police for demonstrating for women’s rights in June.

One of the center’s co-founders, Abdolfattah Soltani, spent several months in prison last year, and in July drew a five-year sentence on charges of opposing the state and disclosing confidential information to diplomats. He is free awaiting the outcome of his appeal, but there is no timetable for the decision. In the meantime, other prominent Iranians are languishing in prison, among them, Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoini, a former member of Parliament, who was arrested in June as he prepared to take part in the women’s rights demonstration, and Ramin Jahanbegloo, one of Iran’s best-known scholars, who was arbitrarily arrested in April.

The European Union recently expressed alarm at the deterioration of human rights in Iran, as have Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations. The United States and Europe need to engage with Iran. But they also need to make clear that Tehran’s poor treatment of its citizens as well as its nuclear ambitions are unacceptable.

Copyright 2006 New York Times. All rights reserved.

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