America must support Iranian protesters seeking freedom

Last week, citizens in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, took to the streets for what began as protests over Iran’s economy and the rising cost of basic goods such as milk and eggs. These frustrations illuminated the reality that Iranians desire more than basic goods. They thirst for basic freedoms.

Demonstrations have since multiplied, spreading to dozens of cities across the country. While it’s currently unclear how long these protests will last or how big they will become, the government’s use of force and propaganda clearly shows that it feels threatened.

News of the protests were first shared via commonly used social media apps such as Instagram and Telegram. The regime has since restricted use of those apps, made 450 arrests and used tear gas on crowds in attempts to silence its citizens. To date, there have been more than 20 deaths.

America is a country founded on the principles of freedom of assembly and speech, and one that vows to defend human rights. Americans on both sides of the political aisle cannot stay silent as we watch the Iranian regime use violence on those seeking to hold their government accountable.

Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, the people hoped for more freedom and reforms. Instead, the opposite has occurred. Then again, in 2015 following former-President Obama’s nuclear deal, Iranians who believed they would receive economic benefits from the influx of cash have seen the opposite effect, with consistently high unemployment rates and increased costs. These citizens are now rightfully questioning the regime’s intentions and funding priorities.

As the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism, Iran is well-known for its funding of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Rather than work to provide a more safe, stable country for the people of Iran, the regime continues to incite violence in the region.

The Iranian government has faced opposition before, as seen by the outpouring of citizens who protested the 2009 election results and then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. People believed Ahmadinejad and his aides had interfered with the process leading to his reelection. This “Green Movement” resulted in the death of hundreds and arrest of thousands.

The same tactics that we’re seeing the regime apply to today’s protests were used then – use of security forces to prevent demonstrations in addition to cutting off mass communication tools.

Protesters under the Green Movement looked to America for support, but the Obama administration chose silence.

Now, as the Iranian people again take to the streets and call for freedom, the United States cannot stay silent.

Watching the events in Iran unfold and hoping that democracy will prevail is simply not enough. As a freedom-loving country, we must stand with the Iranian people who are courageously fighting for basic rights.

Thankfully, President Trump is sending a strong message that the United States supports the Iranian people in their pursuit of freedom. The president’s tweets supporting the protesters has been a good start.

I have taken legislative action, introducing a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives that condemns the Iranian government’s use of violence on demonstrators, and calls for a peaceful outcome to the ongoing protests.

Americans must show bipartisan support as students, families and workers seek to reclaim their country from a ruthless regime. This is a time to speak out in support of freedom.

Congressman Jim Banks represents Indiana’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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