- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Congress is stepping up its pressure on Iran amid continuing unrest across the country that has claimed the lives of hundreds of protesters with no end in sight.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week introduced the first formal piece of legislation expressing explicit support for the demonstrations that have rocked the Tehran and condemning the government’s violent response.

“With this resolution, Congress is sending the strong, bipartisan message to the people of Iran that we support their democratic aspirations and will do everything in our power to hold this regime accountable for its deliberate human rights violations,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican and co-sponsor of the bill.

The protests, the most violent since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, began Nov. 15 after the Iranian government announced a 300% increase in heavily subsidized fuel prices. The demonstrations quickly snowballed into a much broader anti-regime movement in cities across the country.

The government responded to the protests with a nationwide internet blackout and blocked communication between cities in an attempt to end the demonstrations.

“The Iranian regime has an infamous reputation for egregious human rights abuses against its own people, including by censoring the internet, restricting both religious freedom and political participation, imprisoning journalists, and torturing political dissidents,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, Florida Democrat who also co-sponsored the resolution.

According to Amnesty International, at least 208 people had been killed as of last week from violence stemming from the protests, but the true number of fatalities is likely much higher. A top Trump administration official said last week that more than 1,000 Iranian protesters may have been killed by the country’s internal security services since the uprising began.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has confirmed that it is considering sending thousands of additional U.S. troops to the region to contain Iranian aggression in the region.

“Tehran’s efforts to destabilize the region have increased in recent months,” Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told a House panel Wednesday, adding the U.S. is seeing “a lot of turmoil in the streets of many cities of Iran.”

“You hope for the best but we’re planning for the worst,” Mr. Esper told lawmakers.

The show of support comes as the State Department announced yet more sanctions on several Iranian shipping and aviation entities that the U.S. claims have been aiding Iran’s nuclear programs.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed to “defeat” the latest round of sanctions on Tehran “by bypassing America’s sanctions … or through various means including talks,” according to state-run news agency ISNA.

The U.S. moves to apply pressure on Iran and to support the protesters have been welcomed by Iranian-American critics of the regime, many of whom gathered on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon to hear from several lawmakers who have backed the demonstrators.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told The Washington Times at an event hosted by the Organization of Iranian American Communities that while the bill is “great first step,” it does not provide the tangible backing from the U.S. government to deal with the crisis inside Iran.

“We’ve got a long way to go here,” Rep. John Garamendi, California Democrat, told the crowd. “But I join with you in looking to a future in which democracy and human rights are in Iran. I join with you that that should occur in the near future, not in the next millennium.”

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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