We are equally disturbed by the regime’s ongoing campaign of repression against its own people. Such oppression has included the harassment and intimidation of family members of those who speak out for freedoms, the torture of political prisoners, and the limitation of freedom of expression and access to information. These acts of aggression have created a culture of fear in which few dare to voice dissent or challenge regime officials. Students, lawyers, journalists, and bloggers, ethnic and religious minorities, artists and human rights activists are all targets for abuse, intimidation, or discrimination.
Labeled by press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders as an “enemy of the internet,” Iran filters online content and blocks access to the internet to prevent Iranian people from acquiring knowledge and unbiased information about their own country and the outside world. We are committed to raise the cost of repression and help Iranians break through the “electronic curtain” the regime is erecting to communicate with one another and share their story with the world.
As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and this is true, too, as we advocate for the rights and freedoms of the Iranian people. We have helped raise awareness of regime abuses and held Iranian officials responsible for their actions. Working with the authorities you provided us, we have imposed sanctions – including asset freezes and visa bans – on 30 Iranian individuals and entities for engaging in serious human rights abuses or censorship activities that limit freedom of expression, including the IRGC, the MOIS, Iran’s Cyber Police, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. And while we know that public discussion of these incidents does not always help the people taking risks on the ground, make no mistake: we have stood – and will continue to stand – fully and firmly behind the aspirations of the Iranian people.
We have lent our voice to those the regime has tried to silence, speaking out in defense of numerous political prisoners, such as noted human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh, Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, journalist Zhila Bani-Yaghoub, and Kurdish rights activist Seddigh Kaboudvand. We will continue to highlight such cases and coordinate our actions with our international partners, as we did in 2011 at the UN Human Rights Council to create the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, whose exhaustive reports have detailed the extent of unspeakable abuses in Iran. Likewise, we will continue to support the annual Canadian-led resolution at the UN General Assembly to condemn Iran’s human rights practices, a measure which has passed for 10 consecutive years.
Outreach to the Iranian People
Coupled with our concerns about human rights are our concerns about the well-being of the Iranian people. Every day, we hear from the Iranian people directly through our public diplomacy programs and Farsi-language social media platforms. The Virtual Embassy Tehran, launched in December 2011, has over 2 million hits and our Farsi-language Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube channel have also been enormously successful. The 170 videos on our YouTube channel have more than 1 million views and our Facebook page has over 120,000 fans, 60 percent of whom are inside of Iran and who access our sites even though the Iranian regime blocks the site.
What we see through our interactions is that the Iranian people are being detrimentally affected by the misplaced priorities, corruption and mismanagement of their government. Instead of meeting the needs of its own people, the Iranian regime has chosen to spend enormous amounts of its money and resources to support the Asad regime as well as its militant proxies around the world, and to pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction. Instead of investing in its people, Iran continues to restrain their vast potential through censorship, oppression, and severe limitations on their social, political and even academic freedoms.
As the President and the Secretary have said, in the United States our own communities have been enhanced by the contributions of Iranian Americans. We know that the Iranian people come from a great civilization whose accomplishments have earned the respect of the world. That is why in his 2013 Nowruz message, the President emphasized that there is no good reason for Iranians to be denied the opportunities enjoyed by people in other countries.