Iranian dissidents urge State Department to enforce sanctions on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting — IRIB
July 7, 2018
The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Mr. Secretary:
The people of Iran have opened a new chapter in their ongoing struggle for liberty and secular democracy. In recent months, they have challenged continuously, and more firmly than ever before, the authority and control of the Islamic Republic, its officials and its instrumentalities. The various manifestations of increasing public opposition to the regime, including labor strikes and countless other forms of protest, have made Iran today one of the world’s leading theatres of civil disobedience and resistance against tyranny and oppression.
Throughout the regime’s history, as during this recent period of intensifying protests, the Islamic Republic has used its tools of repression to stamp out democratic opposition and to preserve the regime’s stranglehold on power — as has been widely reported, innocent Iranians have been defamed as criminals, arbitrarily arrested and detained, and intimidated, tortured or killed for their rejection of the regime or any its many unjust or corrupt laws and practices. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (“IRIB”) has played, and continues to play, a central role in the human rights abuses perpetrated in Iran. Consequently, we respectfully request that the Temporary Sanctions Relief (the “Waiver”) issued by the U.S. government (“USG”) with respect to sanctions imposed against IRIB pursuant to the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012 (“IFCA”) be revoked or allowed to expire, as set forth below.
We understand that the Waiver resulted from an understanding reached with the regime in 2013 under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (the “ITSO”), whereby the Islamic Republic agreed to ensure that harmful interference does not emanate from its territory (the “ITSO Agreement”). The ITSO is an intergovernmental organization (IGO) whose mandate is limited to overseeing the public service obligations of Intelsat, a onetime IGO but today a private satellite operator. The Waiver does not track the limited extent of the ITSO’s mandate; instead, it operates to waive the imposition of secondary sanctions-based penalties on the provision to IRIB of satellite communications capacity or certain related services by any non-U.S. person satellite operator or services provider.
In support of the request made hereby, we note specifically that:
- We appreciate the leadership of USG and recognize the perceived value of the ITSO Agreement, which was designed to achieve an important change in regime behaviour in exchange for assurance of access to satellite communications services. But although the Islamic Republic may have reduced or eliminated its practice of orbital jamming, it continues to interfere with satellite broadcasting into Iran by the practice of terrestrial jamming, which itself should constitute a violation of the ITSO Agreement.
- Through terrestrial jamming, the regime is able to disrupt satellite broadcasts into Iran without disturbing the remaining operations of associated satellite platforms. Therefore, terrestrial jamming affords a method that achieves essentially the same objective as orbital jamming but without any of the attendant international uproar. For this reason, the Islamic Republic has come to view terrestrial jamming as more effective than orbital jamming. Sadly, terrestrial jamming is also more hazardous. It exposes millions of Iranians to harmful radiation that causes cancer, even according to the public statements of regime officials.
- IFCA directs the imposition of sanctions against IRIB due to its role in human rights violations. While the matter of the regime’s orbital jamming may have been addressed in 2013 through the ITSO Agreement, the matter of human rights abuses involving IRIB remains unresolved. To this day, IRIB continues to participate in and facilitate human rights violations, including by broadcasting forced confessions. During the latest wave of protests, as during the 2009 Green Movement and its aftermath, IRIB: (i) began by not reporting the protests; (ii) then defamed protesters by labelling them foreign agents, terrorists, drug addicts and criminals; (iii) later broadcasted numerous forced confessions supporting such false labels; and (iv) ultimately televised images of protesters and requested viewers to identify them for security forces. IRIB also played an instrumental role in framing the suspected murder of environmental activist Kavous Seyed Emami as a suicide, including by producing and broadcasting a defamatory documentary on Mr. Emami and other associated environmental activists and professionals.
- Iranians inside and outside Iran have consistently criticized IRIB for its coverage and modus operandi. In the wake of the December nationwide anti-regime protests, even a number of leading MPs and members of the Rouhani government voiced concern regarding IRIB’s programming. More recently, during public protests marking the death of popular pre-revolution actor Nasser Malek Motiee, Iranians engaged again in chants decrying IRIB as a public enemy. In addition, on social media, Iranians have an ongoing campaign calling for President Trump to impose and enforce sanctions against IRIB in order to effectively “ban IRIB”. The #BanIRIB hashtag has become very popular and is one of the hashtags most commonly used in tweets relating to protests in Iran. Such widespread and vocal support among the Iranian people for the imposition of specific U.S. sanctions is unprecedented.
- The Islamic Republic uses IRIB not only to disseminate propaganda and advance repression within Iran, but also to promote and achieve its political objectives abroad, including destabilization of the Middle East and cultivation of non-state paramilitary and terrorist organizations. IRIB-affiliated TV/radio channels, including a number of international channels in Arabic (e.g., Al-Alam and Al-Kawthar), operate as propaganda arms, while other IRIB resources are deployed to support the media activities of the regime’s various Middle Eastern proxy groups. Therefore, IRIB works against U.S. national security and foreign policy interests internationally, not just in Iran.
In light of the foregoing, we respectfully request that the Waiver be revoked at the earliest opportunity or, at least, not renewed upon its expiration on July 12, 2018. If implemented, our request would sustain and promote U.S. foreign policy and national security interests relating to Iran, specifically by: (i) significantly enhancing U.S. and international leverage against the regime relating to its satellite-related activities; (ii) impairing or ending IRIB’s operations domestically and abroad, thereby striking an important blow to its ability to participate in and facilitate human rights violations and propaganda operations; and (iii) sending a strong message of support for the Iranian people’s struggle for liberty and secular democracy, which, as noted above, is likely to be well received among Iranians given the many public pleas from Iran for an “IRIB ban”.
A secular democratic government in Iran would be a representative government and therefore very unlikely to use national resources to engage in the jamming of foreign satellite operations or the airing of propaganda, such as false confessions induced under torture. At a time when the Iranian people are reminding us, with extraordinary valor and at great risk, of their deep yearning for systemic change in Iran, we feel that it is more important than ever to identify and eliminate the ways in which USG policy may be strengthening the hand of their oppressors.
Marjan Keypour Greenblatt
Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah
Ulysses Babak Kamrani