NIAC Statement on Politically Motivated Sentencing of Prominent Human Rights Lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh

NIAC is deeply concerned by reports that prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh reportedly faces up to a 38-year prison sentence and 148 lashes on fabricated, politically motivated charges. NIAC unequivocally condemns the Iranian government for its arbitrary and politically motivated detentions in contravention of Iran’s human rights obligations, and reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of Sotoudeh, along with all prisoners of conscience.

Sotoudeh has for years defended those who have suffered rights abuses at the hands of the Iranian government. From her defense of Iran’s 2009 Green Movement protestors to her support for the anti-compulsory hijab activists of last spring, Sotoudeh remains one of Iran’s staunchest human rights advocates. Sotoudeh was released in September 2013—in what was widely seen as a good will gesture ahead of President Hassan Rouhani’s first trip to the UN General Assembly—after more than two years of imprisonment on politically motivated charges following her work highlighting juvenile executions in Iran and her defense of human and civil rights protestors.

News of Sotoudeh’s sentencing comes only days ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th—and serves as a stark reminder of the restrictions and costs Iranian women continue to pay in their fight against compulsory hijab and systemic gender inequality. Since her arrest last June for representing three activists protesting compulsory hijab, Sotoudeh has endured two hunger strikes and refused to participate in her trial after being prevented from selecting her own lawyer. Her husband, fellow imprisoned human rights activist Reza Khandan, noted that she is being prosecuted on seven charges, most of which relate to her opposition to Iran’s compulsory hijab laws.

While the fault for Sotoudeh’s incarceration lies squarely with Iranian authorities, U.S. policymakers must carefully weigh the impact of pressure policies on empowering Tehran’s most reactionary forces and reducing our ability to hold Iran accountable to its human rights obligations. The Trump administration’s abrogation of the nuclear deal, imposition of inhumane sanctions, and ratcheting up of tensions with Iran has further emboldened Iran’s hardline forces that are not accountable to elected institutions. As hardliners seek to match Trump’s bellicosity and undermine moderates and the will of the Iranian people, human rights proponents like Sotoudeh often become the first victims.

Statement on Earthquake in Western Iran

The National Iranian American Council expresses its deepest condolences to all those impacted by the earthquake that struck Western Iran on Sunday evening. Among the towns affected by the natural disaster are Sar Pol-e Zahab, Gilan-e Gharb, and Gasr-e Shireen in Kermanshah province. Tragically, this is the same area where an earthquake last year killed hundreds and injured thousands.

Thankfully, no deaths have been yet reported from Sunday’s earthquake, though over 700 have been injured. Our hearts are with all the victims and their bereaved loved ones.

Last year, we developed a FAQ for those wishing to assist in earthquake recovery efforts and advocated for broader exemptions to better facilitate the ability of Americans to contribute to humanitarian relief efforts. While sanctions present significant restrictions in terms of sending aid to Iran, U.S. citizens wishing to support relief efforts can do so through several avenues.

NIAC will track recovery efforts and examine whether additional steps will be needed to ensure Americans can safely and effectively contribute to relief efforts.

Responding to Omar Navarro’s Slanderous Attack on NIAC and Rep. Maxine Waters

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, responds to Omar Navarro’s slanderous attacks on the National Iranian American Council and Rep. Maxine Waters:

“Omar Navarro’s accusation is an outrageous and slanderous attack, which is all the more deranged at a time when Rep. Maxine Waters and her office have been targeted by political violence. Our event was a fundraiser for NIAC to build our community’s power, not for Rep. Waters. We call on Navarro to immediately delete his tweet, issue a formal apology to both Rep. Waters and our organization, and withdraw from the race. The Republican Party should also make it clear that they find Navarro’s tweet completely unacceptable.”

“This proves that Omar Navarro is not fit to even run for office. If it wasn’t clear when he posted a fake letter on Twitter, prompting queries by the FBI and Capitol Police, it is certainly clear now that he is engaging in outright demagoguery in a desperate bid to gain attention.”

“NIAC is a voice for Iranian Americans who support peace and diplomacy, civil rights, and equitable immigration policies. Attacks like this seek to deprive our community and other immigrant communities a voice in the political process and we will not tolerate them.”


Response to Lindsey Graham’s Racist Remark on Fox & Friends

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement in response to Lindsey Graham’s racist remark on Fox and Friends this morning:

“It is absolutely disgusting for Senator Graham to state on Fox and Friends that it would be ‘terrible’ to discover that he had Iranian ancestry from a DNA test. This is not the first time that Graham has made bigoted remarks about Iranians. In 2015, he said ‘I know Iranians are liars’ based on his experience in his dad’s pool hall.

“If you dread the notion of Iranian ancestry and believe all Iranians are liars, you are hopelessly bigoted and unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate where votes affect tens of millions of Iranians and millions more of Iranian ancestry in the diaspora.

“Graham must apologize for his remarks in 2015 and recant his atrocious attempt at a joke on Fox and Friends this morning. The Iranian-American community will not forget such casual racism, nor will it forget which party has enacted policy on the basis of such racism by banning our family members from Iran.”

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Experts Weigh in on Iran ‘Snapback’ Sanctions Going Into Effect Today

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tonight, sanctions that were lifted under the Iran nuclear deal will begin to go into effect. This includes extraterritorial sanctions on the purchase of U.S. dollar banknotes by Iran; Iran’s trade in gold or precious metals; Significant transactions in the Iranian rial; Iran’s civil aviation sector; and Iran’s automotive sector. The decision to violate the Iran nuclear deal and reinstate sanctions has already had a big impact as major European companies that entered the Iranian market – like Peugeot and Total – have already begun pulling out in anticipation of the “snapback.”

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement on the reimposition of Iran sanctions:

“Today, the United States again violated a successful nuclear nonproliferation agreement endorsed by the UN Security Council that it helped negotiate, doing grievous harm to American leadership abroad and our ability to resolve challenges diplomatically rather than militarily. This weakens the Transatlantic alliance and pushes Iran further into the hands of Russia and China, undermining the security of the United States and its allies.

“These sanctions will threaten Iran’s compliance with the nuclear accord, while also undercutting hopes for Iranian moderation, harming the Iranian middle class and empowering Iranian hardliners and extremists. This is not an erratic tweet, but a collective punishment of 80 million people who are being plunged into economic misery and denied basic necessities such as life-saving medicine and safe civilian aircraft.

“Making matters worse, the Trump administration does not have a viable diplomatic plan to secure additional concessions from Iran. Instead, the administration appears to be joining with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Salman in pushing to destabilize Iran and create another failed state in the region.

“Make no mistake, with Trump listening to warmongers like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, this puts the United States on the path to yet another costly and dangerous Middle East conflict.”

On November 4, the remaining sanctions that were lifted under the accord will be reinstated into full effect, including those targeting Iran’s energy sector; Purchases of petroleum and related products; Transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran and designated Iranian financial institutions; and Persons removed from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, including most Iranian financial institutions.

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A New Chapter for NIAC

Today is my first day as President of the National Iranian American Council. I could not be more proud to take the helm of this organization that my friend and mentor Trita founded and developed into a powerhouse with influence throughout Washington, a dynamic staff in D.C. and California, and tens of thousands of members and supporters across the country. But at this critical juncture, we have a lot of work ahead of us to fight for the priorities of the Iranian-American community.

I joined NIAC’s team in 2009 as Policy Director, became the founding Executive Director of NIAC Action to ensure our voices were heard at the ballot box, and most recently served as NIAC’s Vice President. Over that time, we have been through it all – from the hopes of the 2009 Iranian elections to human rights crackdowns and crippling sanctions. From a historic diplomatic opening and the promise of building bridges between Americans and Iranians, to a ban that divides us from our families.

Through the highs and the lows, NIAC’s mission has been consistent: to build power for Iranian Americans and our allies so that we shape our own political destiny. That means engaging our community in civic life, providing the tools and information to influence our government and elected officials, and building a platform for our community to find and speak with a powerful, unified voice.

We are in a moment now when our voice is needed more than ever before. Our community’s rights – the rights that are supposed to be a fabric of America and which were fundamental to the very existence of Iranian Americans – are in question. The country of our heritage, meanwhile, is in the crosshairs of newly empowered interests who see the years since the invasion of Iraq as a mere intermission delaying their second act in Iran. But the biggest threat to our community is giving in to those who tell us we do not have power to decide what happens next. 

We are not historians, we are activists. We are not bound to a fate decided as part of some opaque and unknown process, we are active participants in a democracy that is being tested. If we are convinced we lack agency over our political destiny, we resort to apathy and conspiracy theories. We accede to the forces of despotism and, instead of building power by working together, we turn on each other to the delight of outside influences who want to keep us disorganized and weak.

At NIAC, we know the rules of the political game and how to win. We know that influence is not only good ideas and access, it is about building power through organizing our community so that, instead of a formless cacophony of disparate voices turned against themselves, we form a powerful, unified voice that resonates in the halls of government.

We have much work to do on our community’s journey to building the political power we are capable of. This transition is a critical moment in that journey – the passage of any organization from its founder to their successor is when a startup becomes an institution. And while building an institution in the midst of what feels like a perilous moment in America’s political history may feel like a tall order, I relish the opportunity. In fact, I think this is precisely the challenge we as a country and we as a community must face head-on in order to meet our potential.

NIAC’s strength and influence comes from the community we serve. My top priority is to build our organization through our members. Over the weeks and months ahead, we will be rolling out new initiatives to deepen our connections with our members – and the level of input you have in shaping our organization – and to expand our membership and build our community.

In Farid Ud-din Attar’s Conference of the Birds, a flock embarks to find the leader who will save them. In the end, it is revealed that the “Simorgh” was not a single exalted leader but rather it was the flock itself, working together, who was the leader they had been seeking. It is a lesson that our community and its forebears have struggled to learn for generations. I am so proud to be a part of an organization that is committed to building this community that is unified, strategic and working together to build real power and leadership. I hope to help guide that process so that we realize our community’s true potential and become the masters of our own political destinies.

Much more to come.

Jamal Abdi

NIAC Statement on Trump’s Tweet Threatening Iran War

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, Vice President of Policy with the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement after Trump’s Sunday night tweet threatening war with Iran:

“Trump’s crazed, all-caps tweet threatening Iran with war last night underscores the danger of supporting the Trump agenda. Minutes after Secretary Pompeo called on the Iranian-American community to support the administration’s pressure campaign on Iran, Donald Trump proved what escalation with an unhinged President at the helm can lead to: a disastrous war.

“The Iranian-American community was deeply disturbed by Trump’s warmongering last night. When Donald Trump threatens that Iran will suffer the consequences that few in history have ever suffered before, Iranian Americans fear that this unhinged President will follow through on his threats to bomb our friends and family.

“It is past time for our elected officials to step up and ensure that Trump cannot launch a disastrous war of choice based on his deranged tweets and foolish advice of officials who have been pushing to bomb Iran for decades. The Iranian-American community will not sign up for Trump’s war push, and will push back more than ever to restrain this President.”


NIAC Welcomes Appointment of New Iran Human Rights Rapporteur

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, Vice President for Policy of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement welcoming the appointment of Dr. Javaid Rehman as the next UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran:

“The appointment of Dr. Rehman to serve as the next Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran will ensure the continuation of important and neutral work aimed at holding Iran’s government accountable to its international human rights obligations. The recent arrest of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer who had previously been unjustly imprisoned in Iran, underscores the continuing failure of Iran to live up to its international obligations and the need for Dr. Rehman to pick up on the important work of his predecessors. The Special Rapporteur position had been vacant following the tragic passing of the last Special Rapporteur, Asma Jahangir, in February.

“NIAC was a key supporter of the reestablishment of the Special Rapporteur mandate in 2011 and has supported its subsequent extension in recent years. The reports produced by the Special Rapporteurs have helped document human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, discriminatory treatment of women and religious minorities, and deeply concerning executions. These balanced reports provide an important opportunity for the Rapporteur, backed by the UN and broader international community, to press Iran to abide by the recommendations of the report and move toward compliance with its human rights obligations.

“It is ironic that the appointment of Dr. Rehman follows the withdrawal of the U.S. from the UN Human Rights Council just last month. Rather than work through multilateral mechanisms that have proven successful at pressuring and engaging Iran, the Trump administration has chosen to isolate itself and reduce its leverage. Fortunately, the work of the Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran will continue in spite of this administration’s preference for unilateral demands over patient and good-faith multilateral diplomacy.

“We urge Iran to comply with the requests of Dr. Rehman, including any requests for meetings with Iranian officials and visits to the country. Moreover, we urge Iran to fully implement the recommendations of Dr. Rehman and past reports.”