The Trump administration will continue to expose and sanction Iranian leaders found guilty of human rights abuses, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday as protesters across Iran take to the streets to oppose the regime.
The Islamic Republic has taken violent action to quell the protests, even going so far as to shut down the country's internet to prevent news of the protests from spreading across the globe. This measure, however, has not stopped images and videos from emerging, according to the State Department, which says it is in possession of nearly 20,000 messages and video clips showing the regime engage in mass human rights abuses.
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Pompeo delivered a message of solidarity to those protesting the Iranian regime, telling them the United States stands with them and will work to expose those Iranian leaders complicit in suppressing the demonstrators.
That message stands in stark contrast to that of the Obama administration when it faced a similar diplomatic crisis. During 2009 country-wide protests in Iran, known as the Green Revolution, the administration avoided siding with anti-regime voices as it sought to ink the landmark nuclear pact with Tehran.
"To the courageous people of Iran who refuse to stay silent about 40 years of abuse by the ruling regime, I say simply this: The United States hears you," Pompeo said in his final in-person briefing at the State Department before the Thanksgiving holiday. "We support you and we will continue to stand with you in your struggle for a brighter future for your people and for your great nation."
"We have received to date nearly 20,000 messages, videos, pictures, notes of the regime's abuses through Telegram messaging services. I hope they will continue to be sent to us," Pompeo said. "We will continue to sanction Iranian officials who are responsible for these human rights abuses, just like we did last week to Iran's minister of communications."
"The Iranian people are, once again, on the streets because of the regime's poor economic management," Pompeo said. "And instead of addressing their grievances, Tehran has responded with violence and by blaming those outside of the country."
The State Department expects to receive thousands more messages from Iranians seeking to expose the regime's human rights abuses. While internet, in some limited capacity, has been reactivated in Iran as the protests wane, anti-regime factions are still being targeted with violence and detention.
"As for internet access, it's come back on just a bit," Pompeo told reporters. "We've encouraged the leadership of the Islamic Republic regime to turn it back on so people can communicate. It's worth noting that while that was done to tamp down the protests that took place and, frankly, deny the world access to see some of it, it's not working. Indeed, it's working at cross purposes. I talked about the 20,000 messages we've received, which we believe all came from inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. We expect we'll get thousands and thousands more over the coming days as well. So there is the capacity for Iranians to communicate outside of the country."
The internet embargo has hurt the Iranian regime itself, Pompeo said, including through the loss of revenue due to the country's inability to perform electronic financial activities.
"It shouldn't surprise anyone that when you turn your internet off, the little bit of commercial activity that is already taking place inside of Iran is diminished," Pompeo said. "Lots of commerce all around the world takes place through electronic communications, and the inability to speak there will further decrease the Iranian economy, which will further deny them to have the resources to conduct terror campaigns around the world."
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are continuing to pressure the Trump administration into taking more forceful action on the sanctions front. The sanctions on Iran's communications minister followed calls from Iran hawks in Congress to amplify sanctions in light of the latest protests.
In a letter sent to the White House earlier this week, Senators Ted Cruz (R., Tex.), Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), John Cornyn (R., Tex.), Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) petitioned the Trump administration to provide a list of all Iranian officials responsible for cutting off the country's internet and move to sanction them.
"The White House has clearly and strongly condemned ‘the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators,' and we call on you to use the full array of tools available to the administration to build on that condemnation," the senators wrote.
The Iranian regime also continues to abuse human rights outside of its own borders. Last week, an Iranian dissident, Massoud Malvi, was assassinated in Istanbul after he defected to Turkey from Iran.