Democratic and Republican congressmen said Wednesday they’re attempting to pressure Iran with legislation to make people involved in holding Americans hostages — specifically Bob Levinson of Coral Springs — “pay an extreme price.”
“The United States follows words with actions, and this bill will rightfully punish Iranian officials involved in the kidnapping of American citizens and egregious human rights abuses against its own people,” U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, whose South Florida district includes Levinson’s home, said in a statement.
Deutch and other Florida leaders have been calling attention for years to Levinson, who went missing off the coast of Iran more than a decade ago.
Levinson, a former agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI, was working for the CIA when he planned a trip in 2007 to Kish Island, an Iranian resort island in the Persian Gulf.
He was there trying to cultivate an informant for the CIA. A United Nations report concluded Iranian authorities detained Levinson at his hotel on March 9, 2007, and have held him ever since. Iran denies that claim.
The family received proof Levinson was alive in a 2010 hostage video. Additional evidence came in 2011, when they received pictures of Levinson.
Years of congressional and presidential efforts to get information and action on Levinson have not yielded results.
The new legislation introduced by Deutch, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, attempts to pressure Iranian officials and their family members.
The Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act:
— Describes the Iranian government’s practice of taking Americans and others hostage.
— Requires the U.S. government to try to extradite and put on trial Iranian officials responsible for hostage taking. The State Department would have to report its strategy for complying with the requirement.
— Imposes sanctions against people who participate in hostage-taking and holding, specifically those “responsible or complicit in such detention.” Those responsible would face property restrictions and a ban on issuance of U.S. visas for them and members of their families.
More broadly, the legislation would state congressional support for the people of Iran and give the Trump administration additional tools to hold Iranian government officials accountable when they engage in human rights violations, corrupt practices and censorship. The congressmen from both parties, along with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, referred to the government there as the Iranian “regime.”
Deutch, in a statement, pointed to the attention focused on Iran in recent weeks as its people have taken to the streets to protest in many cities. “But this radical Iranian regime has long made it its mission to repress its people as well as destabilize the region by financing terrorism and developing dangerous ballistic missiles,” Deutch said.
McCaul said in a statement that the protests against “the oppressive, corrupt regime in demand of reform and respect for basic human rights illustrates the peoples’ discontent has reached a boiling point. … They deserve a free, prosperous, and democratic society.”
Sanders said the Trump administration is “deeply concerned” about reports that the Iranian regime has imprisoned thousands of its citizens, and tortured and killed some, for participating in the protests.
“We will not remain silent as the Iranian dictatorship represses the basic rights of its citizens and will hold Iran’s leaders accountable for any violations,” Sanders said in a statement. “The protesters in Iran are expressing legitimate grievances, including demanding an end to their government’s oppression, corruption, and waste of national resources on military adventurism. Iran’s regime claims to support democracy, but when its own people express their aspirations for better lives and an end to injustice, it once again shows its true brutal nature. The United States calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran, including the victims of the most recent crackdown.”
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