U.S. Lawmakers Have Lost Interest in Supporting Iranian Protesters, Activists Say

Congress has yet to pass sanctions on Iran for its torture and murder of hundreds of anti-regime demonstrators

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April 3, 2023

Iranian activists are worried U.S. lawmakers have lost interest in supporting Iranian protesters and holding the regime accountable for its torture and murder of more than 500 anti-regime demonstrators, Iranian-American activists say.

More than three months after a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers introduced the MAHSA Act, which would impose new sanctions on Tehran's government for its violent crackdown on democratic protesters, Congress has yet to push it forward. Activists are frustrated by the slow roll of the legislation, which was named after 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who was killed by the country's morality police for improperly wearing her hijab.

"We are outraged that those most responsible for such atrocities and human rights abuses have not yet been met with any consequences," Sarah Raviani, an Iranian-American human rights activist, told the Free Beacon. "We will no longer accept empty statements of condemnation from our politicians. Rather, we are imploring that U.S. lawmakers take action by supporting the MAHSA Act."

Amini’s death on Sept. 22 sparked nationwide protests against Iran’s hardline regime, posing the most significant threat to its grip on power in years. Pressure on the regime is needed more than ever, according to activists, in the week since Iran launched an attack in Syria that killed one U.S. citizen and wounded six military members, leaving them with traumatic brain injuries.

Raviani is one of several Iranian community activists who spoke to the Free Beacon about their frustration over the MAHSA Act’s delay. The bill is currently stuck in the House Foreign Affairs Committee awaiting mark-up. Activists tracking the bill expected mark-up to take place last week. Without completion of this procedural hurdle, the bill cannot advance to a full vote in the Republican-controlled House, where it is expected to win bipartisan approval.

"We must keep this regime accountable and relying solely on targeted sanctions through executive order is not enough and leaves the door open for it to be lifted at any time," said Emily Sharif, another Iranian-American activist who has been lobbying Congress to act on the bill. "These people must be sanctioned through law as soon as possible which is why we urge [Foreign Affairs Committee] chairman [Michael] McCaul to mark up this incredibly bipartisan bill that is supported all across the U.S. as soon as possible."

McCaul’s office would not provide an update on when the bill will proceed to mark-up but said the lawmaker supports and co-sponsored the legislation when it was first introduced.

The National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI), a grassroots advocacy organization that supports the bill, also said it is "disappointed by the fact that [McCaul] has not yet marked up the bill."

The MAHSA Act, said NUFDI engagement director Alireza Nader, "is a unique opportunity for the U.S. to protect its national security interests against the Islamic Republic in Iran while taking tangible action to support the Iranian people's struggle for freedom and democracy."

Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who spearheaded the MAHSA Act, told the Free Beacon he is pressing his colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee to move on the bill.

"Congress urgently needs to respond to Iranian aggression with a tough sanctions package, like the MAHSA Act, which has bipartisan support and I believe would quickly and easily pass out of the House," Banks said. "An Iranian-backed suicide bomber just killed an American in Syria and injured six others, while the Iranian regime continues to brutalize its own citizens and expand its nuclear and long-range missile programs."

Iranian-American activists say they will press McCaul and his committee until the bill reaches the finish line.

"Our community has been advocating for this bill tremendously since it’s the first bill after the revolution that takes real action in Congress to support the Iranian people," said Nick Nikbakht, another Iranian-American human rights activist. "It was surprising to not see the mark-up take place, but we are hopeful that the chairman would do this in April in the next HFAC meeting."