NEW YORK – A bi-partisan group of current and past heads of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have joined together to offer their support for Iranian government protesters.
In an open-letter published on Thursday, nine leading religious liberty experts praised the pro-democracy protesters in Iran and condemned the government’s use of force against them.
“Today we write to express solidarity and support for your courageous efforts to restore your Nation’s dignity and put an end to the abuses and deprivation which the people of Iran have suffered,” they wrote. “We are inspired by your bravery. We stand with you and call on our own government and governments and peoples throughout the world to support you.”
Over the past week, more than 20 protesters have been killed and hundreds have been arrested in Iran. While the protests began as an uprising against high food prices and labor wages, it has spiraled into a larger referendum on the current government and its human rights record.
“We have pressed the United States government to give priority to the rights and freedoms of persecuted Iranians in America’s dealings with the regime in Tehran,” wrote the USCIRF members.
The Iranian government has also come under fire for its efforts to block communication methods of protesters and the signers of the USCIRF letter encouraged allied governments and businesses to aid against efforts to quash internal communication.
“Governments and business firms who are in sympathy with the people of Iran and their aspirations to national dignity and freedom can, for example, assist in thwarting censorship and the efforts of the Tehran regime to shut down social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, by which the Iranian people can communicate with one another and with foreign journalists freely,” they wrote.
“Keeping open the corridors of communication through which information flows in all directions is vital. To that end, we call for robust funding by our government of technologies that will provide Iranians and others in closed societies safe and free access to the internet and social media platforms.”
Signers of the letter include Professor Daniel Mark of Villanova University, Professor Robert George of Princeton, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, and Jesuit Father Thomas Reese.
The signees also encouraged joint cooperation between governments, human rights agencies, and journalists in documenting the current efforts and the Iranian government’s response.
“Human rights organizations, international journalists, as well as governments and their embassies can assist the cause of Iranian freedom and self-determination by documenting and publicizing human rights offenses —detentions, beatings, murders — committed by the Tehran authorities against peaceful protesters,” they wrote.
“It is important for the world and for the people of Iran to be apprised in a timely manner of offenses that the government will commit and, indeed, is already committing.”
The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the situation in Iran, which has been deemed “troubling and dangerous” by U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.
“A clear signal should be sent that human rights issues — above all, the regime’s treatment of dissidents — will be at the top of the agenda in any state-to-state negotiation, be it diplomatic or economic,” urged members of the USCIRF.