The program, known as the "Iran Human Rights Documentation Center" distributes information on Iranian human rights violations and anti-democratic activities. The program has received funding from the U.S. State Department for years.
Program directors were shocked when they were told that their yearly request for a grant of $2.7 million in program funding had been rejected.
A former senior member of the State Department called the decision to cancel funding "shameful" in an interview with the website Newsmax. "This sends a clear message to Tehran that we are empowering the Iranian regime to be obstinate and fight us," he said.
"If there is one time that I expected to get funding, this was it," said Rene Redman, the group's executive director, in an interview with the Boston Globe. "I was surprised, because the world was watching human rights violations right there on television," she said.
The program has so far received $3 million in funding from the State Department. The project is under strict instructions to refrain from activity within Iran, and to avoid aiding any opposition groups in Iran.
U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, who initiated a bill proposing increasing the budget for programs working to promote democracy, criticized the Obama administration for changing its policy regarding the funding for these groups.
Lieberman told The Boston Globe that it was worrying that "the State Department would cut off funding at precisely the moment when these brave investigations are needed most."
Joshua Muravchik, a scholar focusing on democracy promotion with the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said in an interview with Newsmax that "the State Department cut in pro-democracy funding for Iran is part and parcel of a very deliberate policy by President Obama to diminish the role of human rights and democracy as goals of U.S. foreign policy."