U.S. Condemns Human Rights Abuses

On December 19, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Iran for wide-ranging human rights abuses, including the violent crackdown on protestors in November 2019. He also announced new U.S. sanctions and visa restrictions. His address was part of a State Department symposium on the state of human rights in the Islamic Republic. 

Pompeo accused Iranian officials of “towering hypocrisy” for the mistreatment of its own people in violation of both international law and Iran’s constitution. He highlighted its discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. Pompeo claimed that the price hike protests demonstrated that Iranians were “fed up with a regime that denies them basic fundamental human dignity.” Pompeo urged Iran’s leaders to change their policy. “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,” he said. 


Pompeo announced three U.S. actions:

  • Re-designating Iran as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act.
  • Sanctioning two Iranian judges, Mohammad Moghisseh, and Abolghassem Salavati, who had sentenced political prisoners and human rights activists to lengthy prison terms or to death.
  • Restricting visa access to current or former Iranian officials as well as others “complicit in the abuse, detention, or killing of peaceful protesters, or for inhibiting their rights to freedom of expression or assembly.”

Pompeo’s speech was followed by a discussion with three State Department officials: Robert Destro, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Sam Brownback, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; and Michael Bell, Deputy Director of the Iran Action Group

The panelists argued that Iran’s human rights practices exacerbated its economic problems. “If you look at economic problems that Iran is having, you don’t really help your economy by oppressing your workers,” Destro said. “There needs to be an international effort to encourage the Iranian government to be true to the promises it made when it joined the international labor organization and other international labor conventions.” Bell pointed to the poor integration of women into the workforce. “Women in Iran make up half the university graduates, but their participation in the job market is about 15 percent,” he said. “There is incredible potential that has been constrained by these oppressive policies.”


The panelists denied that the Trump administration’s goal was regime change. “Ultimately, our goal is not to pick the winners and losers externally for Iran, but the idea is to set the conditions by which that will be done through free and fair democratic elections,” Bell said. “The max pressure campaign is really trying to change the policies of the Iranian regime.” Destro added that regime change must come from “within” Iran. “We can be supportive, but we can’t interfere,” he said.

Brownback rejected the claim that the United States was at war with Islam. “We stand for religious freedom for anybody anywhere, at any time,” he said.  “The problem is that the Iranian government wants absolute allegiance to their view of a theological regime, and it doesn’t allow for any deviants.”

The following are remarks by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a Treasury Department press release. 


Speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

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 [the] 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. 

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. 

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.


Treasury Press Release  

Today, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two judges presiding over branches of the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Court who, for years, have punished Iranian citizens and dual-nationals for exercising their freedoms of expression or assembly.  In many cases, these judges sentenced political prisoners to death. Through their respective branches of the Revolutionary Courts, Abolghassem Salavati and Mohammad Moghisseh, both designated today, oversaw the Iranian regime’s miscarriage of justice in show trials in which journalists, attorneys, political activists, and members of Iran’s ethnic and religious minority groups were penalized for exercising their freedom of expression and assembly and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, lashes, and even execution.

“The United States will not be a bystander to ongoing oppression and injustice in Iran.  This Administration is targeting those in the regime who seek to censor protestors, persecute religious minorities, and silence the Iranian people,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.  “The United States stands with those who participate in peaceful public dissent and protests.”
Treasury’s actions were taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13846, which targets, among other things, censorship or other activities that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran.
Both Salavati and Moghisseh have been sanctioned by the European Union for presiding over a series of show trials following the June 2009 Iranian presidential election, which imposed long prison sentences and several death sentences for political activists and journalists.

Abdolghassem Salavati

Salavati presides over Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, where he has prosecuted and delivered harsh sentences, including many death sentences, to scores of political prisoners, human rights activists, and peaceful demonstrators, earning him the moniker “the Judge of Death.”

Branch 15 is a main venue for the prosecution and harsh sentencing of journalists and internet users. Salavati alone has sentenced more than 100 political prisoners, human right activists, media workers and others seeking to exercise freedom of assembly to lengthy prison terms as well as several death sentences. For example, following a 2015 demonstration by teachers and their supporters, Salavati sentenced the secretary general of the Teachers Association of Iran to six years in prison for “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.”

Judges on these Revolutionary Courts, including Salavati, have acted as both judge and prosecutor, deprived prisoners of access to lawyers, and intimidated defendants.

Mohammad Moghisseh

Moghisseh presides over Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, where he has overseen countless unfair trails, during which charges went unsubstantiated and evidence was disregarded. 

He is notorious for sentencing scores of journalists and internet users to lengthy prison terms. In one case alone, he sentenced eight Iranian Facebook users to a cumulative total of 127 years in prison for charges including anti-regime publicity and insults to religion. Multiple artists, including filmmakers and poets, have also been tried in Moghisseh’s court under charges such as collusion against national security and propaganda against the state allegedly found in their artwork.

In addition to penalizing the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly, Moghisseh has also pressed questionable charges against several members of Iran’s Baha’i religious minority, prosecuting them for supposed participation in activities such as propaganda against the state and assembly and collusion against national security, after they reportedly held prayer and worship ceremonies with other members.

Abdolghassem Salavati and Mohammad Moghisseh are designated pursuant to E.O. 13846 for engaging in censorship and other activities with respect to Iran on or after July 12, 2009 that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran. 

Sanctions Implications

All property and interests in property of these persons designated today subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. In addition, foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate significant transactions for, or persons that provide material or certain other support to, the individuals designated today risk exposure to sanctions that could sever their access to the U.S. financial system or block their property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction.