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Op-Ed: Rep. Cook: US must support Iranian protestors and sanction any human rights violations

January 17, 2018

Since Dec. 28, tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets across Iran to demonstrate and express their displeasure with the Iranian regime. This is the largest outpouring of opposition to the Iranian regime since the volatile 2009 presidential election. Those protests, known as the Green Movement, resulted in the deaths of dozens and injuries to hundreds of civilians as the Iranian government repressed their own people. Roughly two years after the Green Movement protests, the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East upending authoritarian regimes in several countries. The Obama Administration was eager to offer varying levels of encouragement during the Arab Spring but failed to offer the same support for the Iranian people. The 2009 Green Movement protests were a missed opportunity to show the Iranian people that we support their goals of a more open, secular and democratic Iran. We should not make the same mistake during these protests.

The recent Iranian protests are centered on rising inflation, economic inequality and rampant corruption by the Ayatollah’s regime. A draft budget leaked by President Hassan Rouhani’s office showed that cash subsidies to the poor would be cut, fuel prices would be raised, and taxes on basic government services like car registration would be increased. After the Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015, the U.S. and our allies lifted billions of dollars in sanctions against Iran. As a result, many average Iranians expected their quality of life to improve. Due in large part to the corruption and incompetence of their autocratic government, those improvements have yet to come. Youth unemployment stands at nearly 40 percent, overall unemployment exceeds 12 percent, food prices continue to spike, and GDP per capita has slowly decreased. Meanwhile, members of the Iranian regime and their families flout their wealth, driving expensive luxury sports cars and buying multi-million dollar estates around the world.

Protesters are also upset with Iran’s aggressive and costly foreign policy. Many protestors rightly feel that the Ayatollah has wasted billions of dollars intervening in exhaustive wars across the Middle East. Iran has sent cash, weapons, and soldiers to radical elements in Syria and Iraq, to Lebanon to train and advise Hezbollah, and to Yemen to support the Houthi rebels. Iran contributes to these rogue elements and terrorist groups while their own people continue to suffer. The protesters are absolutely right on this point: the Iranian regime’s belligerent foreign policy and support for terrorism is bad for the Iranian people, bad for the civilians across the Middle East, and harmful to the national security interests of the United States.

Protests have spread to all major cities and the government has responded by shutting down social media and online communication channels. During the 2009 protests, roughly 1 million Iranians had smartphones. Today, roughly 48 million Iranians have smartphones, enabling them to communicate and organize the protests like never before. At least 21 people have been killed and hundreds more arrested, most of whom are under the age of 25.

To support the Iranian people, I cosponsored, and the House of Representatives passed, House Resolution 676, which expresses our overwhelming and unwavering support for the Iranian people and their basic human rights. In this resolution, we call on the United Nations to condemn the human rights violations perpetrated by the Iranian regime. We also encourage the administration to expedite the licensing of communications technology to Iran to improve the ability of the Iranian people to speak freely. Most importantly, we call on the Trump Administration to use its existing authorities to sanction any individual directly responsible for human rights violations in connection with these protests. The young men and women of Iran who sparked these protests are fed up with the Ayatollah and his corrupt and tyrannical regime, and they’re more connected to each other and the outside world than ever before. They recognize that a better alternative exists if they can cast off the Ayatollah’s shackles. We should help them achieve that goal.

Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) represents California’s 8th Congressional District and currently serves on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources committees. He served in the United States Marine Corps for 26 years, earning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor.

All opinion articles are the opinion of the author and not necessarily of American Military News.