Congressmen introduce bill to sanction Iran for taking hostages
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Congressmen introduce bill to sanction Iran for taking hostages

Bob Levinson, who has been detained in Iran for nearly 11 years, is a constituent of Rep. Ted Deutch, who says 'the far reaches of this Iranian threat hits us in South Florida'

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Undated photo of CIA contractor and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson (AP/Levinson Family)
Undated photo of CIA contractor and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson (AP/Levinson Family)

WASHINGTON — Members of the US House of Representatives introduced a bill on Wednesday to impose sanctions and visa prohibitions on Iranian officials responsible for politically motivated detentions of US citizens and engaging in other human rights abuses.

The legislation, called the Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, came as Congress overwhelmingly backed a resolution supporting recent anti-government protests in the Islamic Republic.

Introduced by Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul and Florida Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch, the measure is designed to give the Trump administration tools to severely punish Tehran for taking hostages — and thus make them think twice before doing so.

One of Deutch’s constituents is Robert Levinson, a Jewish former FBI agent who was detained in Iran more than 10 years ago. According to the FBI, he is the “longest-held hostage in American history.”

Rep. Ted Deutch on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)

“The far reaches of this Iranian threat hits us in South Florida, where we continue to demand the release of my constituent Bob Levinson who has been held hostage for nearly 11 years,” Deutch said in a statement, adding that “this bill will rightfully punish Iranian officials involved in the kidnapping of American citizens and egregious human rights abuses against its own people.”

The motion also calls for the US to “support the establishment of basic freedoms that build the foundation for a non-corrupt, democratic political system, and help the Iranian people produce, access, and share information via the internet and other media.”

McCaul pointed to the protests in Iran as a sign that Iranians wanted regime change.

“Discontent has reach a boiling point,” he said. “These protests should serve as a stark reminder to the Ayatollahs that Iranian citizens are tired of government officials using the country’s financial resources to fund terrorist organizations abroad while inflation skyrockets at home.”

Iranian worshippers chant slogans during a rally against anti-government protestors after the Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Iran, on January 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 415-2 in favor of a resolution calling on US President Donald Trump’s administration to issue new sanctions punishing Iran’s human rights violators.

It said the House “stands with the people of Iran that are engaged in legitimate and peaceful protests against an oppressive, corrupt regime,” and condemns the government’s “serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people.”

The legislation comes as Trump faces several deadlines this week that could determine the fate of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, including whether or not to waive sanctions against the Islamic Republic and certify, once again, whether Tehran is complying with the counters of the accord.

Trump backed the demonstrators shortly after the protests broke out, tweeting that the “Iranian government should respect their people’s rights, including their right to express themselves,” and that “the world is watching.”

Last week, the White House imposed new sanctions on five Iranian firms accused of working on an illegal ballistic missile program, which officials linked to the protests.

AFP contributed to this report

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