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Iran: US Lawmakers Recognize Iranians’ Fight for Democracy, Urge Action To Support It

On Wednesday, the Organization of Iranian American Committees (OIAC) held a meeting on Zoom. Participants were given the opportunity to listen to remarks from two dozen members of the House of Representatives who had joined as co-sponsors of an H. Res. 118, a bill that condemns recent and ongoing human rights abuses and other malign activities by the Iranian regime and affirms support for the Iranian opposition.

The resolution in question was introduced last month by California Representatives Tom McClintock and Brad Sherman, who also jointly authored a letter to President Biden on February 11, announcing the resolution and urging the administration to support its objectives.

“With the introduction of this resolution, a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress encourages all efforts to recognize the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle to establish a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic of Iran while holding the ruling regime accountable for its destructive behavior,” the letter announced.

This language directly reflected that of the resolution itself, which bears the title, “Expressing support for the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear Republic of Iran and condemning violations of human rights and state-sponsored terrorism by the Iranian Government.” Upon its introduction, the resolution had 112 co-sponsors, but today that number has grown to 158.

Cosponsors of H.Res 118 in 117th Congress as of March 3, 2021

Its assessment of the Iranian people’s desires is based in large part on the public expression of anti-government sentiment in multiple nationwide uprisings and associated press conferences since the end of 2017. Indeed, the resolution begins by noting at that time, “protests erupted in more than 100 cities” and continued for several months, leading to a severe upsurge in repression by Iranian authorities.

The worst of that repression was recorded in November 2019, when the Iranian regime was in the midst of a nationwide uprising even more extensive than the one that broke out in December 2017. As H. Res. 118 points out, an estimated 1,500 Iranian activists were killed during a period of fewer than two weeks after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and other repressive authorities opened fire on crowds in various cities. Yet even in the wake of such crackdowns, Iranian civilians have reportedly continued publicly repeating slogans associated with both uprisings, which evoke a widespread desire for a wholesale regime change.

The House resolution alluded to the fact that protests have continued to emerge in Iran since the November 2019 crackdown. It notes, for instance, that when the IRGC shot down a commercial airliner over Tehran in January 2020, “protesters gathered across Iran chanting against Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.” Separate reports indicate that many of those protesters also took aim at Qassem Suleimani, the head of the IRGC’s Quds Force, who was killed in a US airstrike earlier that same month.

In his remarks to that conference, Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska referred to the Iranian regime as a “threat to the entire world, not just its own citizens,” and cited as evidence a terror plot that had been disrupted in 2018, which targeted Iranian activists, expatriates, and their political supporters as an event space near Paris.

That plot was referenced repeatedly in remarks by other speakers and was a major focus of the resolution itself. It noted that “on February 4, 2021, a court in Belgium sentenced Iran’s diplomat Assadollah Assadi to the maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment for his role in planning to plant a bomb at the Free Iran gathering.”

Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw commented upon this ruling by saying that it “confirms what many of us already know” about the ruthlessness of the Iranian regime and its cavalier attitude toward international norms. He called particular attention to the fact that Assadi used a diplomatic pouch to smuggle the explosive material for the 2018 plot from Iran into Europe. Meanwhile, Congressman Sherman spoke more broadly about expanding evidence for “Iran’s willingness to use its diplomats and embassies” in the furtherance of terrorist aims.

Sherman, a Democrat, was the second to speak at Wednesday’s event following his colleague and co-author McClintock, a Republican. Their collaboration reflects a broader pattern of bipartisanship in support of H. Res. 118, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which organized the 2018 Free Iran rally and has also been credited with a major role in promoting and facilitating the December 2017 uprising and its offshoots. NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi issued a statement at the start of the Iranian calendar year in March 2018 calling upon Iranian activists to contribute to a “year full of uprisings.”

All Wednesday’s speeches expressed a belief in the possibility of a democratic future for Iran. McClintock began his remarks by telling the Iranian activist community, “You’re not alone in your fight for freedom.” He also urged the White House to “constructively engage with Madame Rajavi” in the interest of helping her supporters within Iran to realize the “Jeffersonian platform” outlined by her 10-point plan for the country’s future.

H. Res. 118 prominently declares that the House of Representatives “stands with the people of Iran who are continuing to hold legitimate and peaceful protests” and “recognizes the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle to establish a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear Republic of Iran.”

Supporters of this message tend to indicate that they view it as antithetical to the prospect of engaging the Iranian regime in ordinary diplomatic negotiations, especially in the wake of revelations that the regime’s diplomatic missions have been used as staging grounds for terrorism. Referring both to that foreign aggression and to human rights abuses inside Iran, Georgia Representative Jody Hice stated, “Quite frankly, Iran should have no significant place on the international stage as long as they continue this behavior.”

Congressman Michael Guest of Mississippi said much the same thing in a written statement that accompanied Wednesday’s conference and outlined the perceived responsibilities of the US government: “We must continue to oppose the Iranian regime in the strongest of terms, including prolonging sanctions and other actions intended to deter the regime.”