2020 Marked by a Tumultuous Start for Human Rights in Iran

On January 14, Human Rights Watch released its annual summary of the state of human rights in Iran, reviewing Iran’s from brutal crackdowns on protests, arbitrary arrests, and execution; Iran’s continued discrimination based on religion, gender, and orientation; and the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions. Some issues raised in the report include:

  • The right to assemble, protest, and voice rightful grievances has long been repressed by Iranian authorities. However, under the weight of growing internal pressure from economic discontent and sanctions beginning in late 2019, Iranian authorities grew increasingly cruel in their crackdown on domestic dissent. 
  • This has resulted in an increase of arbitrary arrests of journalists, artists, activists, and foreign and dual nationals. Additionally, the judiciary has increasingly ignored due process and lacked transparency in dealing with such cases, and has doled out harsh sentences. 
  • The worst of these abuses came in November of 2019, after protests – sparked by a spike in gas prices – were met with brutal force. At least 300+ deaths have been reported, but may include many more as the government refuses to declare actual numbers. A staggering 7,000 people were reportedly arrested and the internet was shut down for nearly a week as Iranians were forcibly cut off from the outside world. 
  • Though the report notes some small victories for women, such as limited permission to attend soccer matches and an amendment to the nationality law that allows women to pass citizenship to their children, the legal status of women is still highly discriminatory. Such inequitable practices are also true for religious minorities, especially of the Bahai faith, and homosexuality continues to be criminalized.
  • The report also discusses the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions. Though legally exempt from sanctions, the report notes limited access to vital medicines and medical equipment due to banking restrictions.

As is evident in the report, 2019 was a bleak year for human rights and Iranians have suffered greatly under domestic and foreign pressures. Unfortunately for Iranians, the new year has been a devastating continuation of tragedy. The events of the past two weeks have rocked not only Iran, but also the globe, as people all across the world held their breath bracing for a war that seemed inevitable after the U.S. assassination of Iran’s General, Qassem Soleimani.

In their attempt at retaliation, Iranian authorities carried out an attack on U.S. airbases in Iraq. On the night of the attack, January 8th, Iranian defenses mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, which was leaving Iranian airspace and carrying 176 civilians. The weight of this tragedy was compounded by authorities hiding the details of the crash for three days. More protests broke out after the state declared its error, as Iranians took the streets to grieve and shout their anger at incompetent officials culpable for this and other calamities. Again, protestors were met with unjust force. 

Those responsible for this appalling loss of life must be held to account. Iranian authorities must end their authoritarian practice of silencing rightful dissent and do justice by their citizens by adhering to their obligations under international human rights law. 

The 176 lives needlessly lost were a consequence not only of inept Iranian officials, but also a result of increased escalation and conflict between the United States and Iran.

As Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau stated: “I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians [57 of crash victims] would be right now home with their families. This is something that happens when you have conflict and war, innocents bear the brunt of it and it is a reminder why all of us have to work so hard on de-escalation.”

Such tragedy is a reminder that the greatest human rights violation is war itself, which is why it is incumbent upon both Iran and the United States to end this cycle of violence and bellicose language in order to prevent further loss of innocent life and the unpredictable costs of war.

With MLK Day upon us we are reminded of his sage words so many years ago during the war in Vietnam: “A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just…’ America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood…War is not the answer.” 

NIAC Letter Regarding Etsy’s U.S. Sanctions Compliance Policies and Discriminatory Treatment Towards Iranian Americans

Photo Credit: yasmeenabedi / Twitter

The National Iranian American Council has sent a letter to Etsy concerning its apparently discriminatory treatment of an American vendor selling “Persian dolls” on its website. These dolls appear to have been made in America with American materials by an American, and under no circumstances should have been flagged as a prohibited item. No sanctions apply to American-made items celebrating Persian cultural heritage or antiquity. Etsy’s knee-jerk or automated reaction that led to the prohibition of the dolls is deeply concerning and smacks of discrimination.

At this time, many Iranian Americans are concerned that rising geopolitical tensions are triggering a new wave of xenophobia against our community. NIAC urges Etsy to publicly detail the reasoning behind this discriminatory treatment, take action to verify that it will not continue it and issue an apology to the vendor. NIAC also stand ready to discuss with Etsy the sanctions on Iran and how the company can avoid similar discriminatory action in the future.

The text of the letter is below:

January 18, 2020

SENT VIA MAIL

Etsy Legal Compliance Office
55 Washington Street, Suite 512
Brooklyn, New York 11201

Re: Letter Regarding Etsy’s U.S. Sanctions Compliance Policies and Discriminatory Treatment Towards Iranian Americans

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans, regarding Etsy’s decision to remove from its online store products made by U.S. persons in the United States solely due to the inclusion of the word “Persian” in the title of the product. While we understand that–as a U.S. company–Etsy must comply with all U.S. sanctions laws, Etsy must not implement these commitments in such a manner as to discriminate against users of Iranian descent or to render prohibitive all cultural items of or relating to Iran. We are deeply troubled by this incident and are concerned that–based on Etsy’s apparent sanctions compliance policies and procedures–other users of Iranian descent are likely to face similar discriminatory treatment from Etsy in the future. 

Recently, it has come to our attention that Etsy removed handmade dolls for sale on its online store because the items were described as “Persian dolls.” According to Etsy’s notice, Etsy removed the product because “Persian dolls” constituted a “prohibited item” under the company’s policies. This product, as NIAC understands it, was made by a user of Iranian descent in the United States using solely goods sourced from the United States. No U.S. sanctions laws or regulations appear to have been triggered by Etsy’s hosting of this item for sale on its online store. Etsy’s apparent compliance program has prohibited items from its online store that would raise no compliance issues under U.S. sanctions laws.

U.S. companies must narrowly tailor their U.S. sanctions compliance policies and procedures to the requirements of U.S. laws to ensure that these policies and procedures do not discriminate against and further burden affected communities, including the Iranian-American community. Identifying “Persian dolls” as a “prohibited item” pursuant to its internal sanctions policies and procedures does not qualify as a sanctions program narrowly tailored to the requirements of U.S. law. Such sanctions over-compliance has understandably caused much frustration and anger in our community, and actions such as Etsy’s raise persistent fears that the Iranian American community is the subject of discriminatory treatment. 

We trust that Etsy will review this matter and seek to mitigate the harm caused to any affected parties. We would like to speak further with representatives of the company regarding how they can engage in remediation to revise their sanctions program to ensure that it is strictly tailored to the requirements of U.S law and does not cause any undue impacts on Iranian Americans or other affected communities moving forward. We thank you for your consideration and look forward to your response. 

Sincerely,

Jamal Abdi
President, National Iranian American Council

Letter of Solidarity Standing with NIAC

[Sign the open letter here]

January 17, 2020

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), and its sister organization NIAC Action, are American civil-society organizations working on behalf of members of the Iranian-American community and the broader American public. At a time when our nation is bitterly divided, NIAC is an important voice in our public debate on issues of enormous consequence for all Americans — and particularly for Americans of Iranian heritage — including heightened tensions in the Middle East and the risk of war, policies like the Muslim travel ban and extreme vetting, the rise in domestic hate crimes, and the protection of civil liberties.

We are deeply disturbed by the letter from Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Mike Braun insinuating that this Iranian-American organization has dual loyalties, is somehow less American than other organizations in this space, and should be subject to a Justice Department investigation. While these Senators may have profound differences in opinion with NIAC, particularly on the question of escalation and potential war with Iran, the Justice Department is not the forum to resolve those debates. These tactics have no place in our political process or our national discourse, and risk turning our Justice Department into a political tool to intimidate and silence voices that disagree with whichever administration is in power. We are concerned that everyone involved in contentious policy debates, regardless of political persuasion, will be at risk.

We are proud to stand with NIAC and commend its essential contribution to the public debate.

Signed,

Organizations
About Face: Veterans Against the War
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Friends Service Committee
Beyond the Bomb
CAIR-Texas DFW
Center for Constitutional Rights
CODEPINK
Daily Kos
Defending Rights & Dissent
Demand Progress Education Fund
Foreign Policy for America
Freedom Forward
Global Zero
Granada Center for Human Rights
Historians for Peace and Democracy
Immigration Hub
Indivisible 
Institute for Policy Studies
Irish International Immigrant Center
Japanese American Citizens League
Jewish Voice for Peace
Justice for Muslims Collective
JVP Action
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Montgomery County (MD) Civil Rights Coalition
MoveOn
MPower Change
Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC)
Muslim Voters of America
National Immigration Law Center (NILC)
Oil Change International
Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility
Peace Action
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Ploughshares Fund
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Static Free Films, Inc.
The Avalan Institute for Applied Research
United We Dream
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
VoteVets
Win Without War
Women’s Action for New Directions

Individuals – Organizations Included for Identification Purposes Only 
Gordon Adams, Professor Emeritus, School of International Service, American University
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, CAIR Georgia
Salam Almarayati, Muslim Public Affairs Council
Reza Aslan, Renowned Author and Professor
Andrew Bacevich, President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Dante Barry, Million Hoodies Movement for Justice
David Barsamian
Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, Bourse & Bazaar
Zahra Billoo, CAIR San Francisco Bay Area
Audrey Bomse, National Lawyers Guild
Salih Booker, Center for International Policy
Heather Booth
Yvette Borja, ACLU Arizona
Charles E. Butterworth, University of Maryland, Emeritus Professor
Abdul Cader Asmal
Manzoor Cheema, Project South
Juan Cole, University of Michigan
Holly Dagres
Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Association
Hassan El-Tayyab, Friends Committee on National Legislation
David Emami, City Councilor, Happy Valley Oregon
Rahna Epting, Executive Director, MoveOn
Hadi Esfahani, Professor, University of Illinois
Prof. John L. Esposito, Georgetown University
Richard Falk, Princeton University
Farideh Farhi, Independent Scholar
Mateo Farzaneh, Northeastern Illinois University 
Jon Finer, Former Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Planning at the State Department
Dr. Eugene Fisher
Lara Friedman
Mark Gasiorowski, Tulane University
Prof. Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, Princeton University
Jeanette Gottlieb, Peace Corps Iran Association
Cyrus Habib, Lieutenant Governor of Washington State
Morton H. Halperin, Open Society Foundations
Amir Handjani, Truman National Security Project
William Hartung, Center for International Policy
Nader Hashemi, University of Denver
Jaylani Hussein, CAIR-MN
Deepa Iyer, Solidarity Is
Mitra Jalali, St. Paul City Council
Maryam Jamshidi, University of Florida, Levin College of Law
Robert Jervis, Columbia University
Persis Karim
Hoda Katebi
Tara Kaveh, Alliance San Diego
Bijan Khajehpour
Dr. Fazal Khan, University of Arizona
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association*
Ahmad Kiarostami
Stephen Kinzer, Author, “All the Shah’s Men”
Paige Knappenberger, Climate Nexus
Lawrence Korb, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense
Daniel Larison, The American Conservative
George A. Lopez, Kroc Institute, Notre Dame
Firuzeh Mahmoudi, United for Iran
Robert Malley, Former Special Assistant to the President
Sarah Margon, Open Society Foundations
Edward Martin, Center for Interfaith Engagement, Eastern Mennonite University
John J. Mearsheimer, University of Chicago
Nicholas Miller, Dartmouth College
Ramin Montazeri
Melody Moezzi, Author, Attorney, Activist, & Professor
Bitta Mostofi, Public Servant & Advocate
Asieh Namdar, Journalist
Bruce D. Nestor, Former President of the National Lawyers Guild
Paul R. Pillar, Quincy Institute and Georgetown University
Mitchell Plitnick, ReThinking Foreign Policy 
Gobi Rahimi, Filmmaker 
Nasrin Rahimieh, University of California, Irvine
Ben Rhodes, Former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama
Mahsa Rouhi, International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS)
Muhammad Sahimi, NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering and Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, USC
Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, Virginia Tech
Monique Salhab, Veterans For Peace
Susan Scott, National Lawyers Guild International Committee
Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South
Samer Shehata, University of Oklahoma
Annelle Sheline, The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Debra Shushan, J Street
Nahid Siamdoust, Yale University
Arjun Singh Sethi, Georgetown University Law Center
Barbara Slavin
Nader Soltani
Lakshmi Sridaran, South Asian Americans Leading Together
Yasmine Taeb, Democratic National Committeewoman
John Tierney, Council for A Livable World
Jim Walsh, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stephen Walt, Harvard University
Stephen Wertheim, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State
Dylan Williams, J Street
Carolyn Yale, Member of Peace Corps Iran Association
Stephen Young, Union of Concerned Scientists
Nahal Zamani, Center for Constitutional Rights

 

 

NIAC Responds to Baseless Accusations by Senators Cotton, Cruz, and Braun

In response to a letter sent by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AK), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Braun (R-IN) to the Department of Justice baselessly urging an investigation into NIAC and NIAC Action, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“At NIAC, we are proud of the work we do for our community. We will never stop working to advance peace and diplomacy or fighting for equitable immigration policies and the civil rights of all Americans. Unfortunately, in the current political climate, immigrant organizations and communities like ours are increasingly under attack by agenda-driven groups and individuals who often resort to baseless smears to try to discredit those who disagree with them.

“The slanderous accusations from Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Mike Braun have zero merit. It is yet another sign that warhawks are seeking to intimidate pro-peace voices, starting with Iranian Americans, from halting the push toward war, which Cotton and Cruz have long championed. We have already seen the coordinated efforts, such as the U.S. government funded “IranDisinfo” project that slandered groups like Human Rights Watch, as well as Iranian-American journalists, analysts, academics, and civil society organizations like ours who dared speak out against the Trump Administration’s Iran policies. This is the latest attempt to silence NIAC and other pro-peace Iranian Americans from having a voice in this debate that impacts us and our community. We will not let that happen.

“NIAC and NIAC Action are independent American organizations. We do not receive money from any government, are not agents of any government, and take great pride in our transparency. We are funded by reputable U.S. foundations, ordinary Iranian Americans, and American allies who support peace and civil rights. We routinely condemn the Iranian government for its gross violations of its international human rights obligations, including amid the November crackdown and this past weekend over protests following the government’s downing of a civilian aircraft.

“The Senators’ accusations of dual loyalty targeting our organization, particularly amid heightened risks of war, are disgusting and dangerous. We are just a few days removed from Iranian Americans being detained for questioning at U.S. ports of entry based on their national heritage. These incidents have only compounded an atmosphere of xenophobia, which have made Americans of all backgrounds feel vulnerable in their own country, and have no place within the civil discourse of the United States. In this period of heightened fears and trauma, it is shameful these Senators choose to slander NIAC and NIAC Action as we stand up for the Iranian-American community and work to protect our community’s civil liberties.

“We strongly dispute the mischaracterization of our work by the Senators in their hastily drafted letter. Both Senators Cotton and Cruz have made clear that they favor war with Iran over diplomatic solutions–and they have done nothing to halt this administration from banning our friends and family from Iran beginning in his first week in office. While we know little of Senator Braun, his joining in this McCarthyite targeting of an Iranian-American civil rights organization betrays that he knows little of our community and less about basic democratic liberties.

“It is unfortunate and telling that these warmongers have put NIAC in their crosshairs. Our organization has for years led the charge against war, reflecting the anti-war position of the vast majority of the Iranian-American community. Sens. Cotton, Cruz, and Braun recognize us as a threat to their plans and seek to slander us into silence. They will not succeed. Freedom, equality, and democracy are not just hopeful words, they are the foundations of a just world that we will continue to advocate for, starting here at home in the United States.” 

Statement of Coalition of Iranian-American Organizations on Border Detentions

Reports of Mass Detentions of Iranians and Iranian Americans at the Washington/Canada Border 

January 6, 2020

We write to share extremely disconcerting news, and to share important information with you regarding new immigration incidents affecting Iranian Americans and Iranians in the U.S.  Please read the below carefully and share this information with your friends and family. 

What We Know And Don’t Know 

Over the last 36 hours, there have been alarming reports of more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans being detained at length and questioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Peace Arch Border in Washington State/Canadian border.  Many of the individuals detained were U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including some of whom were returning after a short day trip from Seattle to Vancouver. Upon arrival, individuals were given an orange card, their passports were taken away and were directed to wait. After being detained for extended periods of time, some as many as 10 hours, the individuals were subjected to extensive questioning, during which they were asked invasive inquiries, such as their family and employment histories, and questions about the individuals’ and even their parents’ military service in Iran.  In cases where families arrived together, and one family member was of Iranian origin, the entire family was kept for questioning. Some families detained for extended periods were told that they had to undergo a background check, which needed to be cleared by Washington DC. Due to the large number of individuals arriving at the Peace Arch Border, and the long delays in processing, individuals were turned away and asked to return at a later time.

While our investigation has revealed the foregoing, there is still much we do not know. Across the country, we are hearing conflicting reports of Iranians and Iranian Americans being detained and questioned at other airports, while others are being admitted with minimal questioning.  As of now, it is unclear if there is a national directive from CBP to detain individuals with Iranian heritage. CBP has denied that there is a national directive, and CBP officers have indicated that, due to heightened security, they are conducting full background checks on individuals who are “suspicious or adversarial.”  However, given the reports received, including both geographically and of individuals being detained, further confirmation is required to determine if this is a localized or national directive.

Community Resources

As we continue to investigate and gather information, if you, your family, or your friends are traveling, and have been detained and questioned, please fill out our confidential intake form.

Know Your Rights

Despite the current political climate, Iranian Americans who are U.S. citizens, “green card holders” (also called “lawful permanent residents” or “LPRs”), and visa holders have rights at the border. Absent specific indicia of credible threats by specific individuals, your rights for being questioned and searched at the border have not changed. If you are traveling or have family and friends that are traveling, please review the Iranian-American Community Advisory- Know Your Rights at the Border and Airport available in English and Farsi. Please help us disseminate this information, as it may help your family, friends, and loved ones. 

We Are Here To Help

As a coalition of Iranian American organizations, we are committed to the community of Iranians and Iranian Americans in the U.S., and your families.  We will continue to investigate and monitor this troubling development, will provide you information and updates, and will continue to fight to protect your and your families’ rights and interests. Additionally, we will continue working with, and advocating before, our elected representatives and allies, not only to get to the bottom of what is happening, but to seek remedies to resolve it. Please stay tuned.   

For additional information, you may contact:

Iranian Alliances Across Borders, Mana Kharrazi (mana@iranianalliances.org
Iranian American Bar Association, Ramin Montazeri (ram7nyc@gmail.com
National Iranian American Council, Donna Faravard (dfarvard@niacouncil.org
Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, Ali Rahnama (Ali.Rahnama@paaia.org)

NIAC Statement on DHS Investigation into Detentions of Iranian Americans at U.S. Ports of Entry

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, January 7, 2020 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington DC – In response to reports that some 60 Iranian Americans were held for lengthy questioning by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at U.S. ports of entry, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) requested that the Department of Homeland Security open an investigation into the detentions and questioning.

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement elaborating on the request:

“On Sunday, January 5, the National Iranian American Council requested that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties open an investigation into the detainment and questioning of Iranian Americans at the U.S. ports of entry. We are pleased that the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has opened an investigation into CBP’s potential discriminatory targeting of Iranian Americans at the border following our formal complaint. We will be working to ensure that the investigation is thorough, timely and results in the halt of this discriminatory treatment targeting our community. Detaining individuals on the basis of their national origin is illegal, and the Iranian-American community will not stand for such outrageous and discriminatory treatment. 

“Unfortunately, we continue to see discriminatory targeting of the Iranian-American community from this administration, which began on week one when it instituted a Muslim ban and spread fear and chaos across the country. Three years later, we are still battling to safeguard our community’s rights and won’t stop until everybody in our community and country is safe from discrimination on the basis of their national heritage.

“We will continue to work closely with other allied community organizations, many of whom helped in flagging these abuses. Moreover, we greatly appreciate the leadership of Rep. Pramila Jayapal who has been at the forefront of halting these discriminatory practices and bringing the truth to light.”

NIAC Statement on Verdict in Shayan Mazroei’s Murder Case

In response to the 2nd Degree guilty verdict handed to white supremacist Craig Tanber for his role in the murder of 22-year-old Iranian American Shayan Mazroei, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) released the following statement:

“Four years ago, a 22-year old Iranian-American, Shayan Mazroei, was stabbed to death at a bar in Laguna Niguel. The senseless and violent death of Shayan has been felt by a community shaken by such racially motivated hate, but the real tragedy is for Shayan’s family and loved ones, for his parents who continue to grieve the loss of their son everyday.

“Though Tanber was found guilty on 2nd degree murder charges, justice is incomplete, as Shayan’s death was a clear case of hate based on his Iranian heritage. Tanber, a white supremacist, verbally assaulted Shayan using racial slurs and attacking his Iranian background. As the evidence in the case showed, Tanber waited to attack Shayan with a knife after an initial verbal assault. For these reasons the Mazroei family justifiably sought hate crime charges.

“Against the principles of justice, Tanber was not charged with a hate crime, despite the evidence showing that he was motivated to kill Shayan because of his Iranian heritage. Though a 1st degree murder charge would have been more deserving, we hope the 2nd degree guilty verdict may bring some justice to a family still in mourning.

“Nothing can truly right such a crime, as no verdict will bring Shayan back to his family. Any life taken, especially so young is a tragedy, but to be taken because of racism and hate is beyond words. We must continue to fight against all forms of hate in order to prevent these heinous crimes. Today, our hearts are with the Mazroei family, in hopes that this partial justice will in some way ease their pain.”

 

Iranian Americans Increasingly at the Center of Systematic Discrimination Across the U.S.

Today we learned that the federal officers who inexplicably gunned down a young Iranian-American man at point blank range will not be held accountable. Bijan Ghaisar’s parents and family have sought answers for over two years and have been stonewalled by their own government. Bijan’s murder is just one part of a larger trend of state-sanctioned violence being carried out by American police forces against primarily black but increasingly also against brown men. For Iranian Americans who looked on as other men of colorincluding Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice—were killed by police officers and thought it would never happen to us, Bijan’s death is a wakeup call.

Iranian Americans are caught in the crosshairs of some of the most urgent national political and social challenges America faces today.  From police violence to family separation owed to draconian immigration policies at home to brutal imperialism abroad, our community has a dutyand a unique opportunityto fight back and protect the values we believe in for ourselves and our fellow Americans.

Today’s despairing announcement came on the heels of another official release concerning a civil servant, Sahar Nowruzzadeh, who was targeted by her bosses at the State Department and ultimately demoted because of her Iranian heritage. This is the same state department that illegally funded IranDisinfoa group that attacked Iranian American journalists, organizations, and human rights activists with taxpayer dollars.

The department’s inspector general released its findings from an investigation into the matter and found conclusively that Brian Hookthe lead official charged with formulating Iran policy under Trump and Pompeo discriminated against Sahar because he believed she was born in Iran. Will there be any accountability for Hook’s actions? Or will he too be let off the hook and become just one more perpetrator not held accountable for his offenses against Iranian Americans? 

As Americans, we entrust authorities with powers on the promise that they will not be abused and if they are, we the people hold the ultimate authority to take that power back. In looking at just the above two examples, Iranian Americans can connect the dots as to a whole host of trends underscoring how the authorities who we have elected into office and paid for with our tax dollars are abusing those powers. State sanctioned violence at home is matched by the eagerness to use state sanctioned violence against powerless populations abroad. 

The targeting of a civil servant based on her perceived national origin is a symptom of the same sickness that has produced a Muslim Ban against all Iranian nationals abroad. The securitization of how police treat black and brown men is part of the same phenomenon that has led us to separate children from their mothers and fathers at the border in the name of national security.

We have a responsibility to grapple with these challenges beyond wringing our hands or lamenting how this impacts our community. We must do something about it in coalition with and support of all communities. Building political power for Iranian Americans should top our community’s list of priorities, particularly for those who see the trends and believe enough is enough. 

Iranian Americans are being targeted, but we also are a community of immense privilege and we owe it not just to ourselves, but also to our compatriots facing similar challenges, to put that privilege to use in service of justice. If we organizepull together our political giving, organize our communities locally and nationally to communicate with our elected officials and hold them accountable, and educate ourselves and the broader public about political engagementIranian Americans can make a major impact in restoring justice and accountability. With 2020 around the corner, we must not simply internalize the outrage of Bijan’s murder or the scandal of the targeting of Iranian American civil servants. We need to fight back. 

NIAC Deeply Concerned by Flight Ban on Iranian Students

In response to recent reports that the Trump Administration is preventing Iranian students with visas from boarding their flights to the United States, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“The National Iranian American Council is deeply concerned by reports that a large number of Iranian students with visas were barred from boarding their flights at the last minute by the Trump administration. The students were fully vetted and set to study in the United States during the fall semester, and now have had their futures thrown into disarray with no explanation from either the State Department or Department of Homeland Security. 

“NIAC calls on the Trump Administration to provide a full and transparent accounting of what is behind these recent actions and whether a new policy has been put in place. NIAC is working with several of those impacted, as well as Congress, regarding these cases and inquiring with several branches of government. We will keep working to ensure that this and all bans imposed by the Trump administration on Iranian nationals are lifted once and for all.”

“The current iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban – which continues to unfairly discriminate against Iranian nationals – includes narrow exemptions for Iranian students to secure visas. However, many of those lucky enough to secure entry to American colleges and visas from the State Department now appear to have encountered a second ban that turned them back from the airport. The Trump administration owes it to the American people – which strongly opposes the Muslim ban – as well as to Congress and those impacted to fully detail the reason for its flight ban on Iranian students, the number of individuals impacted and to permit those who pose no security risk to travel to the United States to begin or resume their studies.”

Did you have a visa to study in the United States, but were turned away prior to boarding or upon entry to the United States? Fill out our form so that we can track the impact and help determine the cause of this change in government policy. We will keep all information confidential.

بانک‌ها در برابر ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها تبعیض قائل می‌شوند – این اقدامی است که ما در مورد آن انجام می‌دهیم

,دوست عزیز

سال‌هاست که بسیاری از ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها، تنها به دلیل تبارِ ایرانی‌شان، با بسته‌شدن حساب‌های بانکی خود مواجه می‌شوند. این نوعی تبعیضِ آزاردهنده است که می‌تواند فرد را در حالی که منتظر آزادشدن پس‌انداز و سرمایه‌ی زندگی‌اش است، با مشکلات مالی بسیاری روبه‌رو کند.

بانک‌ها در گفت‌وگو با ما توضیح می‌دهند که این کار، نوعی اقدام احتیاطی برای پیروی از تحریم‌های آمریکاست که اشخاص را از کار کردن با حساب‌های بانکی در ایران منع می‌کند. در حالی که قانون این اقدام را طلب نمی‌کند، بسیاری از بانک‌ها ریسک تبعیض علیه ایرانیان آمریکا را به ریسک نقض تحریم‌ها ترجیح می‌دهند.

به همین خاطر، امروز شورای ملی ایرانیان آمریکا (نایاک) تقاضانامه‌ای را تنظیم می‌کند که از وزارت خزانه‌داری می‌خواهد تا با تغییر رسمی قانون، به آمریکاییان اجازه دهد که بتوانند با حساب‌های بانکی در ایران کار کنند. این عمل، هزینه‌ای برای ایالات متحده ندارد و باید به کارکرد بانک‌ها در قبال بستن حساب‌های ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها و شهروندان ایرانی ساکن آمریکا پایان دهد. علی‌رغم این‌که انتظار داریم بازبینی این روند طولانی و زمان‌بر باشد، اما بر این باوریم که در نهایت می‌توانیم این قانون را تغییر دهیم و به اقدام تبعیض‌آمیز بانک‌ها در قبال جامعه‌مان پایان بخشیم.

علاوه بر این، بیشترین شکایت‌هایی که تاکنون دریافت کرده‌ایم، به عملکرد بانک آمریکا باز می‌گردد. با وجود تلاش‌های متعدد از سال ۲۰۱۴ در جهت مجاب‌کردن بانک آمریکا برای تغییر سیاست‌هایش در قبال اشخاصی که عضو جامعه‌ی ما هستند، این بانک کماکان بدون هشدار یا با اطلاع رسانی کوتاه، به بستن حساب‌های ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها ادامه می‌دهد.

به همین دلیل، ما بار دیگر نامه‌ای به بانک آمریکا فرستاده‌ایم تا برای این نهاد روشن کنیم که تحریم‌ها، آنان را به بستن حساب شهروندان معمولی مقیم آمریکا مجبور نمی‌کند و تصریح کرده‌ایم که برای حفاظت از منافع جامعه ایرانی در آمریکا، گزینه‌ی اقدام حقوقی را باز گذاشته‌ایم تا به رفتار تبعیض‌آمیز این بانک پایان دهیم.

اگر شما از جانب یک بانک با تبعیض مشابه روبه‌رو شده‌اید یا حساب‌تان مسدود شده، از شما می‌خواهیم که روایت‌تان را با ما در میان بگذارید تا بتوانیم پرونده مستندی تهیه کنیم برای اثبات این موضوع که این رفتار تبعیض‌آمیز باید خاتمه یابد. هر چه مثال‌های بیشتری داشته باشیم، پرونده‌هایمان برای تقاضای تغییر قانون در وزارت خزانه‌داری و پایان‌دادن به تبعیض‌های بانک آمریکا، محکم‌تر می‌شود.

داستان خود را این‌جا به اشتراک بگذارید

این را بدانید که ما از تلاش برای شما بازنخواهیم ایستاد؛ خواه در برابر وزارت خزانه‌داری دولت ترامپ باشد، خواه بانک آمریکا، یا هر کس دیگری که به جامعه ایرانی در آمریکا آسیب وارد کند.

با احترام،
جمال عبدی
رئیس شورای ملی ایرانیان آمریکا

گزینه کمک‌های مالی

NIAC Calls for Treasury to Protect Iranian Americans from Bank Account Closures

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Re:      Request for Rulemaking—Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations

            31 C.F.R. Parts 501 and 560

Dear Ms. Gacki:

The National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”)—the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans—respectfully petitions the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) for the issuance of a rule providing license authorization for certain transactions prohibited pursuant to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560. This request is made pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 555(b) and 31 C.F.R. § 501.804(b), the latter of which is applicable to the ITSR by virtue of 31 C.F.R. § 560.101.

NIAC requests that OFAC promulgate a rule providing license authorization for U.S. persons to operate accounts of persons in Iran consistent with license authorizations that have been promulgated with respect to other U.S.-embargoed countries and jurisdictions, including, for instance, Syria and the Crimea region of Ukraine. We believe that such a license authorization will help resolve a problem that has become endemic to the Iranian-American community—namely, the difficulties Iranian Americans have had opening and maintaining bank accounts at U.S. financial institutions. 

Over the past few years, NIAC has heard from countless Iranian-American citizens and Iranian nationals in the United States who have faced continuous harassing inquiries from their banking institutions regarding their legal status and physical presence in the United States and have had their banking accounts shuttered and their life savings mailed back to them via the postal service. Such actions cause tremendous disruptions in the lives of U.S. citizens and Iranian nationals present in the United States, impacting their finances and very well-being, for no reason other than their Iranian heritage. Some individuals who have had their bank accounts shuttered have never even traveled to Iran. 

Banks have justified their behavior with near-unanimous resort to the requirements of U.S. law under the ITSR, including, for instance, the prohibition on the provision of financial services to Iran. While NIAC has repeatedly pointed out to U.S. financial institutions that the ITSR does not require them to deny financial services to Iranian Americans who are neither ordinarily resident nor physically present in Iran, this has not mitigated banks’ practices. U.S. banks have made a ‘risk-based decision’ based on U.S. sanctions under which servicing the accounts of Iranian Americans is not worth the risk inherent in falling afoul of the law.  

We believe that it is OFAC’s responsibility to remedy this situation. We are herein proposing that OFAC adopt a rule similar in scope of that found in the Syrian Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 542, or the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 589. For instance, § 542.515 of the Syrian Sanctions Regulations authorizes the operation of accounts in a U.S. financial institution for an individual in Syria other than a blocked individual, provided that transactions processed through the account (1) are of a personal nature; (2) do not involve transfers directly or indirectly to Syria or for the benefit of individuals ordinarily resident in Syria unless otherwise authorized; and (3) are not otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations. We believe that such a general license authorization can mitigate the risk that U.S. banks believe to be associated with handling the accounts of Iranian Americans.  

We also believe that this proposed license authorization is an important starting point with which OFAC may consider a remedy to this ongoing problem. NIAC welcomes the opportunity to start a dialogue with OFAC regarding the best path forward to ensuring that Iranian Americans are not unduly harmed by the U.S.’s trade embargo with Iran. Being unable to procure basic banking services in the United States—a country in which Iranian Americans live (and for some, have only lived)—is understandably an issue of immediate concern, and we trust that OFAC will dedicate the necessary resources to working towards an imminent solution.   

As part of this request for rulemaking, NIAC also intends to provide supplementary materials to OFAC to underline the immediate nature of the problem and to provide additional proposals to resolve the issue. This may include testimony for members of the Iranian-American community who have been especially affected by the practices of U.S. banking institutions. NIAC is also prepared to respond to any inquiries or requests for clarification that OFAC may have regarding this matter.

We thank OFAC ahead of time for its consideration of this issue, and we look forward to being in touch with the agency regarding a mutually satisfactory path forward.  

Sincerely,  

Jamal Abdi

President, National Iranian American Council

NIAC Calls for Bank of America to Stop Closures of Iranian American Bank Accounts

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Dear Mr. Leitch:

I am writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans, regarding Bank of America’s treatment of its U.S. customers of Iranian origin. Over the past several years, we have received persistent questions and complaints from Iranian Americans and Iranian nationals in the U.S. whose bank accounts have been abruptly closed by Bank of America – in some cases without notice and in other cases even when documents requested by the bank were submitted by these customers that confirmed that the provision of services to such customers was lawful. Our review of this material indicates that Bank of America has adopted policies and practices that are clearly discriminatory towards customers of Iranian origin. We therefore request that Bank of America immediately remediate its internal policies and procedures to ensure that such discrimination ceases. Absent such steps, we reserve the right to pursue litigation regarding this matter.

While we understand from past engagement that Bank of America cites U.S. sanctions on Iran as the basis for its actions, the actions undertaken by Bank of America are unwarranted as a matter of law. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran do not prohibit Bank of America from holding accounts on behalf of customers of Iranian origin. Instead, U.S. sanctions prohibit Bank of America from servicing “Iranian accounts,” which are defined for purposes of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560, as “accounts of persons ordinarily resident in Iran, except when such persons are not located in Iran.” Unless Bank of America has indication that a customer is a person ordinarily resident in Iran and is physically located in Iran, Bank of America has no legal obligation to deny services to a given customer under the ITSR.  

We find it egregious that Bank of America would treat its customers of Iranian origin in such a manner rather than appropriately tailoring its compliance policies and procedures in such a way as to ensure it conforms its conduct to the demands of U.S. law while respecting its customers’ rights and providing its customers exceptional service. We remain interested in discussing steps that Bank of America can take to ensure that its customers of Iranian origin are not treated in a discriminatory manner by the bank, and we reserve the right to pursue litigation to resolve this issue if necessary. 

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Jamal Abdi
President, National Iranian American Council