By: The Editors – nationalreview.com – September 26, 2022
Not for the first time, demonstrators have taken to the streets to challenge the theocratic regime in Tehran, and the ayatollah’s death squads are getting to work. About a week into these protests, the Iranian dictatorship’s very existence is on the line, and a brutal crackdown is expected. President Biden must do everything in his power to assist the protesters.
The latest flare-up began earlier this month, when a Kurdish-Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of Iran’s morality police. She had been arrested a few days prior, reportedly, for not wearing a hijab the proper way. The police claimed that Amini had died of a heart attack soon after her arrest. Needless to say, that was a shameless lie; eyewitnesses said that they saw officers beat her in the police van after they picked her up.
Now, with the protests spreading to up to 80 cities, widespread outrage over Amini’s senseless murder is dovetailing with long-standing frustrations over the mullahs’ mismanagement of the country. In recent years, there have been nationwide demonstrations, most notably in 2019, when people took to the streets to protest fuel-price hikes. During that wave of demonstrations, Iranian security forces butchered innocent people in the streets. Conservative estimates put the death toll from that round of protests in the hundreds, while there’s reason to believe that as many as 3,000 people were killed.
Today’s violence has not reached 2019 levels — yet. Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi was in New York last week to attend the U.N. General Assembly and, apparently, wanted to maintain a façade of domestic order. Still, over the past several days, the Iranian authorities have killed a few protesters, with some human-rights groups estimating the running toll to be at least 31 deaths. Some reports indicate that security forces are using automatic weapons against demonstrators. All the while, they’re restricting access to the Internet and social media in the hopes of preventing mass contagion. In other words, the crackdown is just getting started.
In a seemingly coordinated push, several internal-security agencies, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, issued statements on Thursday and Friday condemning the protests. And unsurprisingly, the Guards called them a seditious campaign backed by the U.S. and Israel. The Iranian regime’s reflexive blame of Washington and Jerusalem is instructive. While the Biden administration has issued a few sanctions designations targeting the morality police and other top officials, there has not been a much wider-reaching U.S. response. Tehran will always blame America for its self-imposed difficulties; restraining American assistance to the opposition on that account would be foolish.
An unfettered U.S. effort to back the Iranian protest movement begins with assistance to lift the digital blackout curtain behind which the regime wants to hide the crackdown that it is planning. On Friday morning, the administration issued waivers to allow telecom and Internet providers to deliver critical communications technologies to the protesters. This may allow the delivery of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite Internet service, which he has now pledged to activate in Iran. In addition, a full battery of sanctions targeting various security officials must follow the initial designations that U.S. officials announced last week. This ought to include Khamenei himself; inexplicably, he has not yet been sanctioned personally.
Above all else, Biden must signal a clear break with the policy of appeasement that his administration has advanced through its ongoing talks with Iran. That Raisi and his entourage were granted visas to come to New York in the wake of Amini’s murder is outrageous; he’s a murderer in his own right, given his starring role in the 1988 Tehran tribunals that ordered the mass execution of political prisoners and his work heading up Iran’s judiciary more recently. That’s to say nothing of the ongoing terrorist campaign targeting top U.S. officials for assassination.
To stand with Iranians, Biden ought to make clear that he won’t deal with the butchers in charge and that he understands that Amini’s murder was carried out by a brutal theocracy that menaces its own people and the world. The brave Iranians marching in defiance of their country’s dictatorship deserve no less.
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