September 22, 2022

What We are Saying to Policymakers

Our community continues to witness incredible acts of heroism, bravery and courage by Iranians in the streets in cities across Iran demanding justice following the brutal killing of Mahsa (Jhina) Amini. The world is watching closely as the situation unfolds, and for many of us, we’re worried about loved ones who live in Iran. For all of us, it has been an incredibly hard week.

Before sharing with you our plans for how we’re supporting Iranians on the ground, I want to reiterate: NIAC condemns, in the strongest terms possible, the violence Iranian authorities have unleashed on its own people and our team will continue to track human rights abuses and share this with our community.

This violence is heartbreaking, but we must make sure Iranian sentiments aren’t exploited by hawks with the goal to only further harm Iranians. These events have demonstrated why it’s so important that we have focused, relentless, organized advocacy that helps our loved ones on the ground. That’s why NIAC is redoubling our work to educate the public, organize our members, and ensure that U.S. policymakers take actions that uplift the cause of human rights and dignity. Here’s what we’re doing:

Building critical support for internet freedom in Iran

As we know well, Iranian authorities are throttling access to the internet and reportedly have restricted access to the most popular apps in Iran like Whatsapp and Instagram. Many of us have been disconnected and unable to communicate with loved ones in Iran due to the Iranian government’s shutdowns, and NIAC has outlined how efforts to bypass these restrictions are undermined by the inability for Iranians to access important tools and platforms due to sanctions.

That’s why it is so important that, heeding our community’s calls, members of the U.S. Congress today sent a bipartisan letter to President Biden urging him to support internet freedom in Iran by updating and expanding licenses intended to protect communications tools from being blocked by U.S. sanctions. The letter, which we supported on Capitol Hill, warns, “Time is of the essence: with Internet access and services under threat in Iran today, we must act now to ensure critical services continue to be provided to the Iranian people uninterrupted.” As one of the co-authors, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) noted, “Iranians are taking to the street demanding justice for Mahsa. We need to do our part to ensure that Iranians remain connected to the outside world.”

This important bipartisan letter is a key signal. There are actions Biden can choose that do not just mean more pressure or threats that have harmed ordinary Iranians. A key step is to “first do no harm” by making sure that existing U.S. policy does not undermine Iranians demanding their rights. That’s why we reiterated our call and are hopeful the Biden administration will allow vital internet services like cloud technology and communication apps to be available for Iranians and not blocked by sanctions.

Tracking human rights abuses and promoting solidarity events across the U.S.  

NIAC has continued to track the evolution of the protests in Iran with three posts since the tragic killing of 22 year-old Mahsa (Jhina) Amini last week. We will continue to track the situation in Iran closely on our social media and on our Human Rights Tracker newsletter. Every week, we publish a Human Rights Tracker (and have been doing that weekly since 2019) that documents incidents in Iran and I encourage you to sign up for that and get the tracker weekly here. You can also follow NIAC’s Human Rights Tracker on Twitter here.

Additionally, we have compiled a list of solidarity demonstrations and vigils being held throughout the U.S., which you can find here.

Guarding against hawkish opportunism

Regrettably, some lawmakers have chosen to exploit this moment to try to lock in sanctions that have impoverished ordinary Iranians and entrenched and enriched its rulers. Notably, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced the PUNISH Act – a bill that would bar any president from being able to lift any of Trump’s “maximum pressure” Iran sanctions for five years – and sought unanimous consent from the Senate for its passage. Thankfully, this opportunistic political game-playing was objected to by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), an important friend of NIAC and our community. It is outrageous that Senator Ernst would choose this moment to lock in sanctions that are punishing the very people fighting for their futures in Iran, which underscores the necessity of our work to engage and push back against bad faith efforts that are so ill-timed for the present moment.

As mentioned, we know this is an incredibly difficult time for our community and as the situation in Iran evolves we will too so that we’re always giving a voice to our community and making sure that policymakers and decisionmakers in the U.S. hear that voice loud and clear. Please feel free to reply to this email with any messages, ideas, or stories. My team and I will be responding to them.

Thank you for being the foundation that makes the work we do possible.

Always with you,

Jamal Abdi
President, NIAC

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