On October 3, President Joe Biden endorsed Iran’s protests and pledged to impose “further costs” on the government for its crackdown after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained for “inappropriate attire” on September 13. “The United States stands with Iranian women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery,” he said in a statement. During the first 18 days of nationwide demonstrations, more than 130 people died in clashes with security forces, according to human rights groups.
On the same day, CIA Director Bill Burns said that the “sweep” of the protests was “striking.” The demonstrators are “incredibly brave” and willing to risk their own safety “because they’re fed up with economic decay, with corruption, with the social restrictions, especially that Iranian women face, and with political repression as well,” Burns explained in an interview with CBS News on October 3.
Three weeks into the protests, senior U.S. officials were increasingly outspoken in criticizing the Iranian regime and announcing new sanctions on Tehran. On September 22, the United States sanctioned Iran’s morality police and seven senior security officials for Amini’s death and the subsequent violence against protestors. On September 23, the Treasury Department authorized American companies to expand the range of internet services--otherwise restricted by U.S. sanctions – available to ordinary Iranians.
On September 27, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Amini “should be alive today.” A brutal regime “took her life because of decisions she should be making about what she would wear or not wear.” The following are statements by U.S. officials on the protests and the crackdown.
President Joe Biden on Oct. 3, 2022: “I remain gravely concerned about reports of the intensifying violent crackdown on peaceful protestors in Iran, including students and women, who are demanding their equal rights and basic human dignity. They are calling for just and universal principles, which underpin the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For decades, Iran’s regime has denied fundamental freedoms to its people and suppressed the aspirations of successive generations through intimidation, coercion, and violence. The United States stands with Iranian women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery.
“The United States is making it easier for Iranians to access the Internet, including through facilitating greater access to secure, outside platforms and services. The United States is also holding accountable Iranian officials and entities, such as the Morality Police, that are responsible for employing violence to suppress civil society. This week, the United States will be imposing further costs on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protestors. We will continue holding Iranian officials accountable and supporting the rights of Iranians to protest freely.”
President Biden on Oct. 15, 2022: “The Iranian government is so oppressive, you can’t have anything but an enormous amount of respect for those people marching in the streets.
“I was surprised by the courage of people and women taking the street — taking off their head scarf. I mean, it’s really been amazing. It’s really been amazing. But they’re not a good group, in the government.”
CIA Director Bill Burns on Oct. 3, 2022: “I don’t think they’re isolated protests. And you know, what’s striking at least to me and to our analysts here is the sweep of those protests. Now, these are incredibly brave people, and many incredibly brave young women. They’re fed up in a lot of ways. And they’re willing to take the risk of getting out and demonstrating because they’re fed up with economic decay, with corruption, with the social restrictions especially that Iranian women face, and with political repression as well.
“Now again, this is an autocratic system. The Iranian regime, which is very good at repressing people, and you know, they’re quite ruthless now in putting down those kind of protests as well.
Question: “Iran has shut down internet access for most of its 80 million people. Elon Musk, Starlink Satellite, is available in Iran. Will the U.S. government help get terminals into Iran?”
Burns: “Well, the U.S. government has made very clear our support for the free flow of information and freedom of the internet. Without going into any details, I think the United States is very committed to that.”
Question: “So we would get involved this time?”
Burns: “All I can say is we are going to continue to be strongly supportive as a government in the free flow of information.”
EXCLUSIVE: CIA Director Bill Burns tells @NorahODonnell that the U.S. is committed to supporting the “free flow of information,” after the Iranian government shut down internet access for its people amid ongoing protests. More of the conversation tonight on the CBS Evening News. pic.twitter.com/l0ASFxOtFU— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) October 3, 2022
Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a meeting with civil society activists on Oct. 14, 2022: “We’re gathered today as we see remarkable displays of courage throughout Iran as women, young people, and many others continue to stand up for the fundamental rights that continue to be denied them by the Iranian regime. This is in many ways not a new story; this has been going on for years, for decades. But in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death and the spontaneous demonstration of outrage that this has produced, I think we are seeing something that is quite remarkable throughout the country, led primarily by women and young people.
“This denial of fundamental rights, fundamental freedoms, is something that the United States has long worked against, as have many other countries around the world. But first and foremost, this is the Iranian people standing up with extraordinary courage for the rights that are being denied them. We’ve worked to support those who are standing for their fundamental freedoms despite the efforts of the regime to deny them the ability to assemble, to speak freely, to communicate with each other. We’ve imposed sanctions on the so-called morality police that are engaged in incredibly abusive practices. We have of course worked to license technology so that the Iranians have the ability to communicate with one another and to communicate with the outside world.
“But today I was especially eager to hear from colleagues who’ve themselves in many different ways been on the front lines of the struggle for fundamental freedom and fundamental rights in Iran, to hear from them, to listen to them, to learn from them.
“The final thing is this. I know that the Iranian regime will try to paint this and other expressions of solidarity with those standing up for their freedoms as evidence that these protests are somehow made outside of Iran and the work of others. And if that’s the case, if they genuinely believe that, they fundamentally – fundamentally – do not understand their own people. Because this is about Iran’s struggle, the struggle of the people of Iran, for the fundamental freedoms that have long been denied them. That’s what this is about, and the sooner the regime understands that and acts on that, the better everyone will be.”
Secretary of State Blinken in remarks on Sept. 27, 2022: “Mahsa should be alive today. The only reason she’s not is because a brutal regime took her life and took her life because of decisions she should be making about what she would wear or not wear. Women in Iran have the right to wear what they want; they have the right to be free from violence; they have the right to be free from harassment. That’s true in Iran. It’s true – should be true everywhere. So for starters, Iran needs to end its use of violence against women for exercising what should be a fundamental freedom. And as a general proposition and in this specific instance, we stand with all of those who are exercising the universal right to peaceful protest.
“As you noted, we’ve also taken action. And two things I would point to: We designated the so-called morality police and specific individuals for human rights abuses, and that imposes sanctions on them and it would impose, as well, sanctions on anyone who seeks to in any way do business with them. And then more specifically to the point you raised, we announced a general license to facilitate the free flow of information inside Iran. So for example, what this does is it authorities companies to provide things like cloud services, privacy technology, security technology, hardware and software to enable the Iranians to better communicate among themselves and also with the rest of the world. Individual companies can come to us, to OFAC in this case, to determine whether their technology fits under the license, and we will certainly look for ways to facilitate technology services being made accessible to people in Iran.”
Joint statement on Oct. 20, 2022: “We, the members of the Freedom Online Coalition, are deeply alarmed by and strongly condemn the measures undertaken by Iran to restrict access to the Internet following the nationwide protests over the tragic killing of Mahsa Amini. In furtherance of what has become a longstanding pattern of censorship, the Iranian government has to a large scale shut down the Internet yet again for most of its 84 million citizens nationwide by cutting off mobile data; disrupting popular social media platforms; throttling Internet service; and blocking individual users, encrypted DNS services, text messages, and access entirely.
“Millions of Iranians rely on these and other tools to connect with each other and to the outside world. By blocking, filtering, or shutting down these services, the Iranian government is suppressing the right of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression; eroding civic space; reinforcing a continued climate of economic uncertainty; disrupting access to healthcare, emergency services, and financial services; preventing payments for salaries, utilities, and education; and limiting the ability of journalists, human rights defenders, and others to report on and document human rights violations or abuses that are taking place during Internet shutdowns, or communications disruptions.
“We emphatically call on the Government of Iran to immediately lift restrictions intended to disrupt or prevent their citizens from accessing and disseminating information online and from communicating safely and securely. Moving forward, we also call on Iranian authorities to refrain from imposing partial or complete Internet shutdowns and blocking or filtering of services and to respect Iran’s international human rights obligations, including under articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“We continue to stand in solidarity with the Iranian people in their call to exercise their rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, both online and offline.”
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in a statement on Nov. 14, 2022: “We are deeply concerned about reports from Iran of mass arrests, sham trials, and now a death sentence for protesters voicing legitimate demands against a government that systematically denies basic dignity and freedom to its people. The reported death sentence comes at the same time as the political prisoner Hossein Ronaghi was reportedly transferred from Evin prison to a hospital in Tehran after reports of torture. The eyes of the world are on Iran. The human rights abuses inflicted by its government must not go without consequence. The hundreds of protestors already killed at the hands of Iranian state authorities deserve justice. The torture and mistreatment of political prisoners like Mr. Ronaghi must cease. The United States, standing with our partners and allies around the world, will continue to pursue accountability for those responsible for these abuses through sanctions and other means. We welcome the new sanctions adopted today by the European Union and the United Kingdom against 29 Iranian individuals and three entities involved in the violent crackdown on protestors. The United States stands staunchly with the Iranian people and their demands.”
National Security Advisor Sullivan in an interview on Oct. 16, 2022: “We are taking a range of aggressive actions to try to support the protesters in Iran.
The first thing that we're doing is trying to hold accountable those brutal officials in the Iranian regime who are cracking down on protesters, killing protesters, beating protesters. We have sanctioned the so-called morality police. We have sanctioned senior officials who have participated in the brutal crackdown and repression.
We've sanctioned the communications minister who is responsible for trying to cut off the Internet from Iranians communicating with one another. And then we've taken steps to try to make it easier for brave Iranians, the women and citizens of Iran standing up for their dignity, to be able to talk to one another and to be able talk to the world.”
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in tweets on Oct. 10, 2022: “The world is watching what is happening in Iran. Over the weekend, innocent protestors including a young girl were shot dead. The President of Iran compared protestors to 'flies.'”
“These protestors are Iranian citizens, led by women and girls, demanding dignity and basic rights. We stand with them, and we will hold responsible those using violence in a vain effort to silence their voices.”
National Security Advisor Sullivan in a tweet on Oct. 7, 2022: “Spoke today with Iranian women’s and human rights activists about how the United States can continue to support the brave protestors in Iran calling for justice following the death of #MahsaAmini in the custody of Iran's "Morality" Police.”
National Security Advisor Sullivan in an interview on Sept. 25, 2022:
Question: “I want to ask you a question about the protests in Iran. You were in the Obama administration during the Green Revolution in 2009. You're well aware there were many folks who thought that the Obama administration then was a little slow to respond to those protests. Is the Biden administration's response a response to that criticism way back when? Is there going to be an attempt to be much more forward-leaning on these protests going forward?”
Sullivan: “Well, Chuck, part of the reason that there was a different kind of approach in 2009 was the belief that somehow if America spoke out it would undermine the protesters, not aid them. I think what we learned in the aftermath of that is that you can overthink these things, that the most important thing for the United States to do is to be firm and clear and principled in response to citizens of any country demanding their rights and dignity. And so right after these protests broke out our administration began speaking out, and the president in fact went to the well of the United Nations and said that the United States stands with the citizens of Iran, the women of Iran, as they demand their rights and their dignity and a better future in Iran. We have taken tangible steps to sanction the morality police who caused this young woman's death, and we've taken steps to make it easier for the Iranian people to get access to the internet and to communicate with one another and with the world. And we will keep speaking out day in and day out because this is a matter of fundamental justice, dignity, and rights, and the United States knows which side we are on.”
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen in statement on Sept. 22, 2022: “Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in Morality Police custody was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people.”
“We condemn this unconscionable act in the strongest terms and call on the Iranian government to end its violence against women and its ongoing violent crackdown on free expression and assembly. Today’s action to sanction Iran’s Morality Police and senior Iranian security officials responsible for this oppression demonstrates the Biden - Harris Administration’s clear commitment to stand up for human rights, and the rights of women, in Iran and globally.”
Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley on Oct. 31, 2022: “First, to make clear our support for the fundamental rights of the Iranian people. Again, as I said, that's a global approach that we have to human rights. And we've done that vocally from day one. You've heard from the President, you heard from the Secretary of State, you heard from the National Security Adviser, all the senior officials in administration, voicing their support for the fundamental rights of the Iranian people.
“Number two is to make sure that this is a multilateral international effort. You're seeing countries in the Global South, like Chile, are saying the same thing about support for the fundamental rights of the Iranian people, and the condemnation of the regime violence against them.
“Number three is to make sure that the world knows and sees the actions of this Iranian regime, [its] use of violence against peaceful protesters, and the brutality that the protesters have suffered. We are, through our sanctions, putting a spotlight on what's happening in Iran. Through actions in multilateral fora—whether it's at the United Nations, with the Human Rights Commission, whether it's in other places like the online Freedom Coalition—we are going to make sure that people are watching and know what the Iranian regime is doing, and they're held accountable.
“And then finally is to make sure that the sanctions that we have imposed on Iran historically over decades do not interfere with the ability of the Iranian people to communicate with each other, or with the outside world—so the steps that we've taken to make sure the restrictions on internet access that the Iranian regime is trying to impose are not compounded by our policy.
“And you'll see that we have now imposed a series of sanctions against perpetrators of human rights violations in Iran, not just [at] the very top but also mid-level officials who may have thought that they could escape the limelight. They can be named and shamed, and they know that the world is watching.
“The U.S. role can be very ambitious. It also has to be very realistic. There's only so much that we can do and that we should do because we are not the center stage of what's happening in Iran. It is led by Iranians. It's a grassroots popular movement. The Iranian people will determine their future. You'll see more sanctions. You're going to see more efforts to try to make sure that the internet is as unencumbered as possible. You'll see more steps at international fora to show the world and show Iran that we're holding their regime to account. Because this is not a matter of the West against Iran.
“[The] Iranian regime will do everything to paint this as a U.S.-inspired or an Israeli-inspired movement. That's absurd on its face. There's nothing that the United States could do that would convince 15- year-old girls to challenge the authorities at great risk to their lives and security. Nothing that we could do that would convince Iranian women and others to come out into the streets in the face of great peril to their own lives. That kind of anger, that kind of passion, can only have been triggered by the policies of the regime. It's their policies that have generated that kind of anger and that kind of movement. The same officials who are claiming that we’re behind it are the officials that said that Mahsa Amini died of natural causes, the same who are denying, in the face of mounting and irrefutable evidence to the contrary, that they have transferred drones to Russia.
“Our policy is not one of interfering, to try to foment regime change. It's one of supporting the basic rights of Iranian people. We have to expect the Iranian regime to try to paint those protesters as being lackeys of the U.S. and Israel. The Iranian people see right through that. I don't think this is a playbook that's going to work. We know others who have tried to use it in the Middle East, and it doesn't work because when this level of fury is being generated by the policies of the regime, you cannot convince anyone that it's being in any way micromanaged by the U.S.”
Special Envoy for Iran Malley in a tweet on Sept. 16, 2022: “Mahsa Amini’s death after injuries sustained in custody for an “improper” hijab is appalling. Our thoughts are with her family. Iran must end its violence against women for exercising their fundamental rights. Those responsible for her death should be held accountable.”
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on Oct. 12, 2022: “Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke virtually today with more than 20 global technology companies at a roundtable event hosted by the Global Network Initiative, a non-governmental organization focused on Internet freedom issues. She reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to enabling the free flow of information globally, particularly for countries subject to sanctions, including Iran. She was joined by other senior officials from the Department of State and the Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Deputy Secretary Sherman underscored that General License D-2 was issued with the intent to facilitate greater access for the Iranian people to secure online platforms and services. She emphasized the United States’ commitment to helping Iranians, especially in light of their critical need for expanded access to Internet services while their government violently suppresses peaceful protests. She said General License D-2 represents a moment of opportunity for technology companies to provide people in Iran with essential tools to communicate with each other and the outside world using the Internet.”
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price in a tweet on Sept. 19, 2022: “Iranian women should not be subject to arrest, let alone brutal beatings, for how they choose to dress. Iran’s government should listen to those protesting Mahsa Amini’s unconscionable death in police custody, not fire on them.”
Readout of White House meeting with Iranian human rights activists on Oct. 21, 2022: “Today, Assistant to the President and Director of the Gender Policy Council Jennifer Klein, along with senior officials from the National Security Council, convened a meeting with Iranian activists and experts to hear perspectives on how the Biden-Harris Administration can continue supporting the Iranian people as they bravely call for equal rights and basic human dignity. The group discussed the pivotal role of Iranian women in mobilizing a diverse coalition of Iranians protesting against the brutality of the government, and discussed the diplomatic and economic tools the United States is pursuing to support Iranian protestors and hold the Iranian government accountable.”
Vice President Kamal Harris in a statement on Nov. 2, 2022: “The United States continues to stand with the brave women of Iran as they protest peacefully for their fundamental rights and basic human dignity. All people in Iran must have the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and Iran must end its use of violence against its own citizens simply for exercising their fundamental freedoms.
“The United States believes that no nation that systematically abuses the rights of women and girls should play a role in any international or United Nations body charged with protecting these very same rights. The UN Commission on the Status of Women and its members are charged with “promoting women’s rights” and addressing “urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women’s rights.” Iran has demonstrated through its denial of women’s rights and brutal crackdown on its own people that it is unfit to serve on this Commission; Iran’s very presence discredits the integrity of its membership and the work to advance its mandate. This is why today the United States is announcing our intention to work with our partners to remove Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
“To all of those protesting I say again, we see you and we hear you. I am inspired by your bravery, as are people around the world. We will continue to hold accountable the Iranian officials and entities responsible for the violence against protestors.”
Vice President Harris’ readout after her meeting with British-Iranian activist and actress Nazanin Boniadi on Oct. 14, 2022: “Vice President Kamala Harris met today with actress and activist Nazanin Boniadi to express her support for the brave women and girls leading peaceful protests in Iran to secure equal rights and basic human dignity. The Vice President emphasized how the courage of these women protestors has inspired her as it has inspired the world. The Vice President commended those in Iran and in the Iranian diaspora who are giving a voice to the aspirations of a new generation seeking fundamental rights that Iran’s regime has for decades attempted to deny and suppress through repression and violence. The Vice President underscored that the Biden-Harris Administration will continue to stand with these Iranian women and citizens. They discussed how the United States will make sure these important voices are heard, including by making it easier for Iranians to access the Internet, and that Iranian officials are held accountable for their brutality and abuses.”
Met with @NazaninBoniadi to discuss the ongoing protests in Iran. I reaffirmed that we stand with the courageous women and all citizens of Iran who right now are defying violence and repression to secure their basic rights. #IranProtests pic.twitter.com/tKoNRDXBbz— Jake Sullivan (@JakeSullivan46) October 14, 2022