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Human Rights and the Iranian Regime
December 19, 2019

Remarks by Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you.  Good morning.  Thank you, all.  Thank you.  Good morning, everyone.  How are you all doing today?  Everybody good?

It’s an important day here at the State Department, and I appreciate you all joining us.  Bob, thanks for the kind introduction, and I’m delighted to welcome you all here to the United States Department of State.

I’m especially happy to host our friends from the Iranian diaspora.  Your success is living proof of what the Iranian people can do when their full potential is unleashed.

And of course, I want to give a special welcome, too, to the brave Iranians in the audience who have suffered and survived regime persecution.  Thank you all for joining me here today.  It’s humbling and an honor for me to see you all here.

I love the diversity of the audience we’ve got here today.  Got members of Congress.  We’ve got folks from all across the non-governmental organization community who are working on important issues related to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We’ve got people from all across the foreign policy community, so many of our Department of State team members, folks from the diplomatic corps.

And thank you all for being here.

I think the diverse group and the size and scale of the audience today tells us a lot about the willingness of the world to join the United States in supporting Iranian voices and Iranian dreams.

When we do this, we will be upholding America’s legacy as the world’s greatest champion of liberty, as we have been since our founding.

When we do this, too, we’re telling the Iranian people that they have friends across the world and in America seeking justice for wrongs that have been done to them.

Indeed, it’s those very injustices, those human rights abuses that the regime commits against its own people that brings us all together today, and what I want to spend a few minutes talking with you about.

I have a message for the leaders of the regime:

If you seek to recover respect from your people and from the world…

If you seek stability and prosperity for a once great nation…

You must respect the commitments that you have made.  You must respect human rights.

This symposium, this gathering, could not come at a more timely moment.  The protest that started and accelerated in November clearly signaled that the Iranian people have just had enough.  They’re fed up.

They’re fed up with the regime’s economic failures.

They’re fed up with the kleptocrats.

And they’re fed up with a regime that denies them basic fundamental human dignity that comes from each of us as a nature of our humanness.

It’s not one age group.  It’s not one class or gender lifting their voices.

It’s female students in Tehran.

It’s teachers in Mashhad.

It’s younger men in Mehrshahr.

One of those young men was Pouya Bakhtiari.  Pouya was an electrical engineer full of life, who loved singing the Elvis song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” and he was sick of what he called criminal and corrupt Iranian leadership.

Last month, he joined his countrymen on the streets in protest.  Pouya’s mother, Nahid, went to the protest with him.  They promised that they would hold hands to stay together, but as you’ve watched the videos, you’ve seen there was chaos.  And when the security forces started attacking a crowd – the crowd, they became separated.

Then Nahid experienced every parent’s worst nightmare.  She saw fellow protestors holding her son’s lifeless body.  He had been shot in the head by security forces of the Iranian regime.

Today Nahid grieves with so many other parents, so many other amazing people across Iran.  But she also says, “Now, Pouya’s ideals are mine…  I want to witness and celebrate the freedom of the people of Iran.”

Today many Iranians like Nahid are angry.  It’s a feeling that’s been building for an awfully long time.  The ayatollah and his band of thugs that planted the roots of their rage 40 years ago are going to have to change.

In 1979, in their mad zeal, they imposed the Islamic Republic Revolution on the open-minded, entrepreneurial, and amazing Iranian people.

To this day, the Iranian regime is desperate to control ideas, to control speech, and, indeed, to control life itself.

Just a few examples from the last year:

Three women handed out flowers on the Tehran metro, on International Women’s Day in March.  They weren’t wearing the hijab.

The regime sentenced them to between 16 and 23 years in prison for propaganda against the state and for “moral corruption.”

Two months later, in May, the Iranian Government banned religious minorities from working at childcare centers with Muslim children.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported just this past week, just a few days ago, that there are 11 journalists currently imprisoned in Iran.  Iran’s intelligence ministry is on a campaign of intimidation against elderly family members of Iranian journalists.

These handful of examples are but a glimpse – a glimpse into 40 years of regime disrespect for its people, its disrespect that destabilizes Iran’s internal order, its disrespect that weakens its economy and makes Iran a pariah state in the eyes of freedom-loving people all across the world.

Too, there’s a towering hypocrisy in this mistreatment.  So many of the regime’s human rights violations defy its own domestic laws.

Forty years ago this month, the regime adopted the current Iranian constitution; it’s still in effect.

Article 9 of the constitution says that, “No individual, group, or authority, has the right to infringe in the slightest way upon the political, cultural, economic, and military independence or the territorial integrity of Iran.”

But – as protesters in Iraq and Lebanon are saying – this is precisely what Iran has done to them.  What enormous hypocrisy.

Article 14 of that same constitution says that “the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and all Muslims are duty-bound to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms … and to respect their human rights.”

But Jews, and Christians, and Zoroastrians – all legally recognized faith groups in Iran – are denied their full freedoms.

With Christmas just a week away, I can’t help but think of Victor Bet-Tamraz.  He’s a Christian pastor whose home was raided during a Christmas celebration almost five years ago.  He and his wife and his son are all out on bail pending – or excuse me – on bail, appealing prison sentences.  I’m glad his daughter Dabrina is with us here today.  Dabrina, thank you for being with us.  (Applause.)

That same document, that same constitution, says that, “All people of Iran, whatever ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights.”  But the regime treats so many ethnic minorities in Iran as second or third class citizens.

Article 27 of the constitution allows for public gatherings and marches, but it’s when citizens speak up that the regime’s hammer really comes down.

Think of the thousands – you all know them – think of the thousands of Iranians executed in prison following protests in 1988, the students that were slaughtered in the protests in 1999.

And then think of the protest in 2009.  We all recall the cries of “Where is my vote?”  Those protesters were met with more bloodshed and sentences to serve – to be served out in places like Evin Prison.

It’s the same story today.

The regime has killed hundreds and hundreds of protesters since mid-November, possibly more than 1,000.  The regime cut off the internet, a basic communication tool, to try and stop the world to see the horrors that were taking place inside of their country.

I can’t imagine, but does the regime really think that this is the path that leads to prosperity and strength?  I think not.  I think they know differently.

I ask the same question on Iran’s infidelity to its international obligations and commitments.

Iran’s a founding member of the International Labor Organization.  But the regime steals money, drains their pensions.  This money is taken from the citizens for their use to take care of their families and turns it into – well, into shell casings in the sands of Syria and Yemen.  Labor organizers are rounded up and imprisoned and tortured.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “no one shall be subjected to torture” or to “arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.”  But think of the Baha’is, the Sunni minorities, or even non-religious persons in Iran who continually face prison and torture and execution for their faith, their basic belief system.

Too, Iran is party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.  Sounds ironic almost to say it.

Yet, Iran permits the use of the death penalty for girls starting at age nine and boys of age 13.  Indeed, two 17-year-old boys were reportedly secretly executed just this past year.  And we’ve seen protesters gunned down at random on the streets in just the last 30 days.

We grieve to see a calloused and corrupt elite disrespect an ancient and proud people.  We grieve to see the Iranian nation sink further into a pit of poverty, because of unjust rulers.

But as difficult as the situation is, as I have just recounted – and I have only scratched the surface – it’s not hopeless.  The Iranian people have a steadfast friend and they are good people and they have spirit.

The friend is a unique North Star for hope for all those oppressed and their voice, their writings, their faith, and their ideals.

The United States will stand and has stood under President Trump with the Iranian people.  (Applause.)

Our public support, our moral support is important.  Our calls for justice matter.  A call for a normal nation with a real economy, for accountability.

It’s unfortunate that in 2009 when the opportunity arose, Americans did not do that.  It’s not political.  This is about the best and what we want for the Iranian people.  Look, the appeasement of the regime simply will not work.

We’ve done something completely different in the administration.

We’ve asked the Iranian people to send us evidence of regime brutality.

We’re bringing to light what the ayatollahs are desperate to keep in the dark.  So far we’ve received more than 36,000 pieces of information, and we’re working each and every one of them.

We’ve heard these stories, we’ve seen these stories.

We’ve seen the faces.

Those faces – the faces of the victims – will not be forgotten, and the faces of the perpetrators will be pursued.

Iran’s human rights violations are worse than unacceptable.  They’re evil, and they’re wrong.

And they fundamentally repress the incredibly energy, entrepreneurship, and spirit of one of the world’s great peoples.

So today we call on the Iranian regime to fulfil the first duty of any government: Treat your people with basic dignity, to which every member of the family of mankind is entitled.

Uphold your commitments under your own constitution and international law.

Act like a normal country.

Unleash your people’s vast potential.

We seek these things, we urge these things out of true principle, but also as a message of common sense to the regime.

True prosperity will only come to Iran when you cease terrorizing your people and jailing them.

Indeed, I would urge the regime to follow the words of the Persian poet Saadi of Shiraz: “A lord who lays waste to the hearts of his people will only see in dreams the prosperity he wants for his domain.”

And to show that we mean what we say, today I’m announcing several new actions in support of the Iranian people:

First, I have re-designated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act.  The world should know Iran is among the worst violators of basic fundamental religious freedoms.

Second, today the United States Department of Treasury will sanction two Iranian judges: Mohammad Moghisseh, and Abolghassem Salavati.  (Applause.)

Among the – among the heinous acts that Moghisseh sentenced – did was to sentence Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer and a women’s rights defender, to 33 years in prison and to 148 lashes.

And Salavati sentenced an American citizen, Xiyue Wang, for 10 years in prison on false charges of espionage.  We’re glad we won Xiyue’s release, but he should’ve never been sentenced or jailed in the first place.

Salavati has sentenced hundreds of political prisoners.  He’s the go-to guy.  He sentenced journalists and human rights activists to prison – or worse, to death.  He’s a tool of the regime’s oppression, not an impartial friend of justice.  And today he’s now sanctioned by the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Third, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, we are restricting visas for current or former Iranian officials and individuals responsible for or complicit in the abuse, detention, or killing of peaceful protesters, or for inhibiting their rights to freedom of expression or assembly.

Our action will also restrict visas for these individuals’ family members.  The materials that are being provided to us by citizens from all across Iran will be invaluable in us using this new authority to put true pressure and to hold accountable those who are denying freedom and justice to the people of Iran.  (Applause.)

Thugs killing people’s children will not be allowed to send their own children to study in the United States of America.  (Applause and cheers.)

These are serious measures, they’re thoughtful measures that took us a little bit of time to get to the right place.  But I want the people of Iran to know that it doesn’t have to be this way.

If the regime in Iran respects the rights of all Iranians, it abides by its commitments, it can win back respect from its own citizens.

It can shed the black label of being an outlaw regime in the eyes of the world.

And – very importantly – it can enjoy sustained prosperity and peace for its people as well.  I think the leaders must know that their people are demanding it.

The path to prosperity for each country begins at home.  And when the leaders of sovereign nations put their interests and the interests of their citizens first, our collective future will be brighter.  (Applause.)  Our people will be happier.  Basic freedoms will be respected.  Our partnerships will be stronger.

Just think of what could happen between our two countries.  The President talks of this often.

One day, the locks on the doors of the Iranian embassy here in Washington could be cut off.

One day, Iran Air could fly direct to Los Angeles or to Houston.  Everyone should suffer LAX.  (Laughter.)

One day – one day, our leaders could receive one another in goodwill and not as adversaries.  What a moment that would be when we could reach those times.

I pray and I hope that this day comes soon.  We, along with you all, are working to make this happen, and I hope that the regime will soon see its path clear to permitting this to happen.

But no matter what, I tell the Iranian people what I have said for many months and I will continue to say so long as it is required to be said:

America hears you.

America supports you.

America stands with you.

We do so for your sake…

For the sake of freedom…

For the sake of basic human dignity…

For the sake of respect.

Thank you all for being here today.

May God bless the people of Iran.

And may God bless the people of the United States of America.  Thank you.  (Applause.)