Thank you, Holly. And thank you to the Atlantic Council and the distinguished panel for their leadership and contributions to this important commemoration. One year ago tomorrow, Mahsa, known affectionately to her family as “Zhina,” died while in the custody of Iran’s so-called “morality police.” Instead of investigating and holding accountable those responsible, the Iranian regime put forward a false narrative about her death and violenty confronted peaceful protests across the country. Iran’s leadership killed hundreds of Iranians in the crackdown that followed, and gravely injured many more. The regime’s disgraceful actions knew no bounds in its attempts to silence dissent.
We are here today to remember Ms. Amini’s life. We must also remember the protestors, activists, and journalists who were killed, injured, and imprisoned for merely demanding human rights and justice. Journalists Elaheh Mohammadi and Niloufar Hamedi, who first broke the news of Ms. Amini’s death, remain in jail one year later facing sham trials and charges that carry lengthy prison sentences. Other journalists like Nazila Maroufian were arrested because of their unwavering pursuit of the truth. Those who protested the regime’s injustice also suffered greatly. Saleh Mirhashemi, Majid Kazemi, and Saeed Yaghoubi paid the ultimate price and were executed after what human rights organizations widely called a “grossly unfair” trial that lacked evidence and relied on confessions reportedly extracted under torture. There are many other stories and names we must remember of those who bravely stood up for human rights in Iran only to be arrested and handed harsh sentences. We continue to call for the release of all political prisoners.
Mahsa Zhina Amini’s own family is still being harassed by the regime – including her recently arrested uncle Safa Alae and reports that her father Amjad has been repeatedly intimidated by authorities to prevent the family from holding a memorial service.
Today, one year since Mahsa’s death, the human rights situation in Iran remains dire. The regime continues to severely restrict Iranians’ exercise of their human rights and has increased the surveillance and punishment of women and men who engage in acts of civil disobedience. There are reports that the so-called “morality police” are back on the streets of major Iranian cities and are cracking down to enforce mandatory hijab laws, including by detaining and handing out penalties and inhumane punishments to women. Notably, Iranian authorities have detained, harassed, and defrocked dozens of religious leaders of the Sunni Muslim communities for their peaceful criticism of the arrest and killing of protestors. Members of the minority communities have been disproportionately targeted and repressed in the government’s brutal responses, and have been historic victims of institutional and physical repression by the regime for decades. Sadly, 58 children from the country’s Baluch and Kurdish minorities have been killed during this crackdown.
This devastating toll tells us that the regime has learned nothing from the protests. Severe repression, threats of sexual assault, harassment on and offline, and unjust imprisonment continue.
Despite the intransigence and cruelty of their government, the Iranian people will not be silenced. They stand behind the simple yet powerful message of “Woman. Life. Freedom” and continue to speak out and demand respect for their human rights.
All the while, the United States, along with our allies and partners around the world, have been listening to the Iranian people. We imposed coordinated sanctions on the individuals and entities involved in repression, limiting their access to the global financial system – from the so-called “morality police” to regime-affiliated “interrogator journalists,” to senior commanders of the IRGC and Law Enforcement Forces, to the prison system, and companies that supply Iranian law enforcement.
Access to information and knowledge is power. We mobilized our resources when the Iranian regime tried to cut off ordinary Iranians from accessing the global Internet to hide their human rights abuses and prevent Iranians from exercising their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. We issued General License D-2 to ensure U.S. sanctions did not stand in the way of Iranian people staying connected online. We then worked with U.S. technology firms to help them provide more digital services to people in Iran, from access to cloud computing services to better tools to enhance their online security and privacy. We surged support for circumvention tools, enabling Iranians to maintain access to information. During the height of the protests, the United States provided unprecedented support and anti-censorship tools that reached 30 million Iranians – nearly one in three – to help them stay connected with the world via the internet and share accounts of the brutal crackdown. In response, Secretary Blinken declared that, “the international community has come together to condemn and confront Iran’s brutal crackdown, and we will [sic] continue to act in support of the right of the Iranian people to speak out for their fundamental freedoms.” U.S. commitment is steadfast, and we remain vigilant and ready to hold human rights violators accountable.
That’s why I am proud to share that today, in coordination with our allies, we are announcing 29 additional sanctions designations against Iranian officials and entities connected to serious human rights abuses against ordinary Iranian citizens and the restriction of the free flow of information. These sanctions seal off those individuals and entities from the U.S. financial system, and they also ensure the perpetrators of human rights abuses do not remain anonymous. We have also taken steps to impose further visa restrictions under the Immigration and Nationality Act on 13 Iranian officials responsible for or complicit in the abuse, detention, or killing of peaceful protestors. We also previously imposed sanctions on an Iranian company, Arvan Cloud – a key partner of the regime and its Ministry of Intelligence and Security – which worked to censor, disrupt, and surveil the Internet used by the people of Iran.
Last December, we listened to calls from Iranian civil society for international action – including from women political prisoners inside Evin Prison—and responded by leading efforts within the United Nations to have Iran removed from the Commission on the Status of Women. We also supported the establishment of a Fact-Finding Mission at the UN Human Rights Council, which is continuing their investigation into potential human rights violations committed against protestors during the events following the death of Mahsa Amini, especially those involving women and girls. We once again call on Iran to cooperate with the international Fact-Finding Mission by allowing unhindered and safe access to evidence, victims, and witnesses inside the country. Sadly, we have no expectation that they will do so. Faced with this grim reality, who then will shape the future of Iran?
In his most recent trip to the Middle East, President Biden shared his deeply held belief that the future will be won by societies that unleash the full potential of their populations, and where citizens can question and criticize their leaders without fear of reprisal. I share his sentiment and believe that Iran’s leadership should allow the people of Iran to shape their country’s future, instead of trying to silence them.
Right now, Iran is facing problems of its own making. Its leadership should be listening to the people, not shooting them, arresting them indiscriminately, censoring their voices, and disrupting their access to the global internet. Iran’s state-sponsored violence against women and the undermining of their human rights must end.
Civil society is an essential component of advancing fundamental freedoms in Iran, here in the United States, and in countries around the world. Mahsa Zhina Amini’s death and the deaths of hundreds of other brave Iranians at the hands of their own government were tragic, but they have not died in vain. Today’s gathering and those around the world honor their memories through sustained action.
The United States will continue to stand with the people of Iran and stand up for the human rights of all Iranians. We will also deepen our work with allies and partners, including at the United Nations, to support efforts to shed light on the human rights abuses in Iran and hold perpetrators to account.