We shouldn’t treat the protests in Iran like business as usual

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Jack Rosen | The Times of Israel

Nika Shakarami was a 16-year-old Iranian girl who burned her headscarf in protest against the draconian laws and brutal suppression of human rights by the Islamic regime in Iran. Then, on Sept. 20, she disappeared in Tehran after reportedly being followed by the country’s security forces. Her family accused the security forces of torturing and killing her, and secretly burying her body.

(Courtesy)

This is just one of many crimes in the violent efforts of the Iranian government to suppress a growing and majority of Iranian citizens who desperately want to live in a world where freedom and democracy reign supreme — not the ayatollah. The current protests in Iran are not just a simple outburst of anger, nor solely about the tragic death days earlier of Mahsa Amini at a hospital in Iran (who was detained and brutally beaten by Iran’s infamous morality police for breaking a law requiring women to wear a hijab) on Sept. 16. No, this reaction is the culmination of years and years of accumulated trauma and totalitarian rule.

With that in mind, it is vital to recognize the complexity of the situation.

The Biden administration has worked hard to make as great of an impact on this current situation as possible, such as issuing a general license for Internet companies to circumvent existing sanctions and provide services that can help the population in Iran. Compared to the response to the 2009 protests in Iran, when Washington was criticized for its inaction and cautious approach to the demonstrations surrounding Iran’s presidential election, the administration has been quicker and far more reactive as things unfolded.

While the government-sanctioned violence has left as many as 250 people killed (including about two-dozen children) and thousands arrested, U.S. President Joe Biden has made it clear that we stand with the Iranian women and all those that are rising up in the hopes of freedom.

Some might argue that a restrained response by America would be advisable so as not to provide Tehran with excuses to label the demonstrations as instigated by foreign powers, and that the outright lack of Western support helps shield the Iranian activists. But this would be short-sighted, and it would fail the expectations of the Iranian people.

Fighting for human rights

The U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned Iranian officials on Oct. 6 for the continued violence against protesters, including important governmental figures and some high-level security officials. That list of sanctions for the current human-rights abuses and tyrannic violence needs to be immediately broadened and expanded with key officials and institutions. Moreover, America can and should encourage the European Union and member states to follow suit, and fast. European nations and institutions, which are often and willfully blind to Iran’s behavior, cannot ignore the plight of the Iranian people now.

Importantly, the women and students protesting on the ground must be assisted as they try to break through the government censorship on the Internet, including the targeted blocking of social-media platforms. The United States can and should expand these efforts by assisting companies that provide Internet services with the technical means to overcome the Internet blackout. More so, we can help to make these platforms as accessible as possible for all Iranians, including those who are not able to pay subscriptions and associated fees for communication apps and software.

In layman’s terms, we cannot continue to deal with Tehran like nothing is happening and merely continue such patterns as business as usual.

Rather, a bipartisan and bicameral group of Congress members has already unveiled a principled resolution to support the people fighting for their fundamental human rights. Now Congress should double down, especially by highlighting the need for international justice and accountability for all victims of Iran’s game.

Many leaders in Congress should be commended for their vocal objections to a revived nuclear deal with Iran. At this moment, it is clear that talks of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also originally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), legitimize the theocratic regime.

Moreover, the agreement itself provides Iran with sanctions relief and more resources to suppress its own people, leading to the increased export of terrorism and destabilization.

Continuing to engage with Tehran now on this front sends the wrong signal to the world and relays a horrible message to the demonstrators. Whether some want to believe it or not, the Iranians (and the larger world) are all listening and watching.

Amid inaction, the Iranian security apparatus would feel emboldened to abduct, torture and kill many more innocent women and girls like Nika. That is why we must be bold and show that we won’t allow the regime to continue undisturbed on this murderous path.

Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress and chairman of the American Council for World Jewry.

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