Bicameral, Bipartisan Bill Establishes Special Representative on Iran Human Rights and Democracy, Imposes Sanctions

WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–May 3, 2011.  Four U.S. lawmakers today introduced landmark legislation in both the House and Senate to increase American focus on human rights and democracy in Iran.

The Iran Human Rights and Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, sponsored by Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in the Senate and by Congressman Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) in the House, would make it the policy of the United States to deny the Iranian regime the ability to oppress the people of Iran, to fully support democratic activists inside Iran, and to help the Iranian people freely and safely access and share information.

The bipartisan legislation would establish a “Special Representative on Human Rights and Democracy in Iran” with budget authority over all relevant funding and impose sanctions on companies that sell or service products that enable the Iranian regime to oppress its people. It would require a comprehensive strategy to promote Internet freedom in Iran and reauthorize the Iran Freedom Support Act.

“We need to apply the lessons of the Cold War to the 21st century threat posed by the Iranian regime,” Senator Kirk said. “A dictatorship that murders its own people in the streets will not be an honest broker in international affairs. As Americans, we should speak directly to the people of Iran struggling for freedom and democracy and let them know we stand squarely by their side.”

“Iran must stop its deplorable human rights violations, and this legislation is a strong step towards that end,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Congress has to go after the very leaders of Iran’s government who are not only brutally oppressing its own people, but are also building nuclear weapons that pose an existential threat to the world community. As Americans, we must stand in support of the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy.”

“As the momentum of democratic protests continues to build in the Middle East, we are compelled to confront the Iranian regime’s willingness to brutally crack down on its own people,” said Congressman Dold whose district includes the Baha’i Temple in North America. “Given Iran’s role as the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror, it is both a strategic imperative and a moral necessity that the United States’ leadership be used promote democracy and human rights in Iran. This legislation sends a critical signal to the pro-democracy opposition imprisoned inside Iran not to lose courage.”

“Democratic change is sweeping through the Middle East, but the Iranian regime continues to suppress democracy by engaging in the most outrageous human rights abuses,” Congressman Deutch said. “This hypocritical regime makes public statements supporting reforms in other nations, while using violence and intimidation to quell its own opposition movements. This legislation cracks down on those who perpetrate the most horrific human rights abuses and affirms the U.S. commitment to those seeking freedom and democracy.”

Last month, the State Department released its 2010 report on human rights in Iran, concluding that “security forces under the government’s control committed acts of politically motivated violence and repression, including torture, beatings, and rape.” According to the report, “security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals, often holding them incommunicado. Authorities held political prisoners and continued to crack down on women’s rights activists, ethnic minority rights activists, student activists, and religious minorities.”

Navid Khanjani, 23, is one of those student human rights activists who stood up for the rights of people of the Baha’i faith, protesting the government’s ban on Baha’is in universities. Navid now faces a 12-year prison sentence simply for saying that Baha’is should continue their studies.

“The arrest of student activists, professors, and denying them rights of education and teaching, is against rules of the country and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and represents a violation of basic human rights,” Navid wrote in a statement sent from Iran. “The denial of education by the security apparatus is another portion of the Islamic Republic’s human rights report card. This day, however, our labor has borne fruit, and the international community is a witness to the violations of human rights in Iran.”

According to research conducted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the Iranian regime uses products purchased from international companies to carry out its oppression. In a study published today, FDD reports the products range from sniper rifles and riot gear to web filtering technology and cell phone monitoring equipment.

“International companies are providing goods and technologies that help the Iranian regime brutalize its own people,” said Mark Dubowitz, FDD’s executive director and head of its Iran Human Rights Project. “One day a free Iranian people will build a museum displaying these tools of oppression with the logos of the companies that abetted the regime’s crimes. Until then, this legislation will help name and shame those companies that still care about their reputation and punish those that don’t.”

The full text of the Iran Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2011 is available upon request.

Separately, Senator Kirk today announced the launch of the Iranian Dissident Awareness Program to help members of the House and Senate advocate on behalf of individual Iranian dissidents.

“Our goal is to put faces with names – to tell the stories of the persecuted, the dissidents, the political prisoners,” Senator Kirk said. “In the darkest days of Soviet human rights abuse, the odds looked long but the dignity of individuals and cause of liberty prevailed. We should bring this same resolve to our dealings with Iran.”

A short video introducing the Iranian Dissident Awareness Program can be viewed here.