Mahsa Amini, who was fatally injured in hijab police custody in September 2022.

Activists Express Dismay As Iran Sanction Bill Stalls In US Senate

Friday, 12/22/2023

Iranian-American activists say the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is refusing to advance a bill that codifies sanctions against Iran’s leaders.

The bipartisan Mahsa Amini Human rights and Security Accountability Act (MAHSA Act) passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming majority in September 2023, but has not yet been moved forward for a vote in the Senate.

“Senator Cardin’s office told us they won’t markup bipartisan human rights bill MAHSA Act HR589 that holds leaders of terror regime in Iran accountable for crimes against humanity & funding terrorists,” posted activist Nick Nikbakht on X Thursday. “Killing innocent civilians in Israel, Ukraine & Iran is not enough for Cardin!”

Senator Ben Cardin is a Democrat representing residents of Maryland, a state with a sizable Iranian community. In his long career in the Capitol (first as a Representative then a senator) he has led many legislations related to human rights in Iran. His office’s refusal to move forward the Mahsa Act has therefore baffled many.

“Why are you refusing to mark up a bill that holds the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leaders accountable for their human rights violations, and for supporting Hamas terrorists,” asked another Iranian-American activist on X.

The MAHSA Act is named after the 22-year old Kurdish-Iranian girl who was detained in Tehran for not covering her hair fully. She was beaten in custody and died in hospital on September 16, 2022. Her death sparked country-wide protests, better known as the Women Life Freedom movement, which challenged the regime and its religious authority like never before.

The bill passed the house a year after Mahsa Amini’s death (with 410 voting in favor and only 3 voting against). It requires the executive branch to impose applicable sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader’s Office and his appointees, Iran’s president and cabinet officials, foundations and other entities affiliated with the Supreme Leader.

It also requires the President to report to Congress every year whether those officials should remain under existing sanctions, making it much harder to lift sanctions for the current and future administrations.

Iranian-American activists have been pushing for this bill to become law ever since it was introduced to the US House of Representatives in the wake of the 2022 protests in Iran. But the legislative road has not been as smooth as they had wished, since the Senate is controlled by Democrats, who seem to be reluctant to take up the bill.

The Democratic Party’s stance on Iran –put on display most visibly by the Biden administration– has been widely and strongly criticized by activists and Republican lawmakers who advocate a tougher approach, especially after the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas.

The Biden administration this year allowed $16 billion of frozen funds to be released to the Iranian regime, the largest chunk after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that Iran fully supported and praised.

They may not get their way after all. But it won't be for lack of trying.

“Rest assured, we Iranians won’t give up on this bill,” writes another activist, Samie Moazzami on X, addressing Senator Cardin directly. “Is this the legacy you want, to oppose Democrats values of democracy & human rights by NOT sanctioning Iran’s terror leaders?”

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