On Monday, Iranian opposition websites confirmed that security forces have arrested two 2009 presidential candidates who are the nominal leaders of the dissident Green Movement -- Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi -- along with their wives. The couples had been prisoners in their homes for weeks, but even house arrest was not enough to assuage the Iranian government's fears. Mousavi and Karroubi have repeatedly been threatened with trials and execution for refusing to give up their calls for the release of political prisoners and for new elections.
Circumstances, however, turned them into dissidents. Mousavi believes that he -- not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- won the June 2009 presidential election, and millions of Iranians agree with him. Karroubi has been an outspoken champion of human rights, exposing credible reports of rape and torture of political prisoners since 2009.
It is no accident that Tehran chose this moment -- when a bloody revolution is unfolding in Libya -- to try to muzzle Mousavi, Karroubi and Mousavi's articulate wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a former university president. Despite house arrest, they had managed to get messages out to the media through friends and relatives.
Adding insult to injury, Ahmadinejad on Monday addressed the first "national human rights conference" in Iran. According to Press TV, an Iranian-run English-language channel, Ahmadinejad asserted that Iran is the "best example for asserting human rights in the world." He added, "It is the obligation of an Islamic government to provide the world with an excellent example and model for the achievement of religious democracy."
Such rhetoric would be laughable if it weren't so tragic. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, 500 Iranians are serving jail terms for political protests. Another 500 are detained and awaiting processing, including 80-year-old former Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi, the world's oldest political prisoner.
Even more ominous, 120 Iranians have been executed since Jan. 1, according to the rights group. Iran executes more prisoners per capita than any country and is second only to China in the total number of those killed by the state.
While it is probably wishful thinking to hope China and Russia will implement similar measures, they should reconsider their ties with a regime like Iran's. If there is one lesson that has emerged from the Middle East turmoil of recent weeks, it is that governments that provide neither freedom nor economic prosperity to their people cannot endure forever.