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An anti-government protest that ignited in Iran’s northeast city of Mashhad on Dec 28th, rapidly transformed into a nationwide uprising with over 130 cities participating to manifest their frustration at the government.  Economic grievances are not the sole contributing factor that sparked the mass protests as some say; the Iranian people are simultaneously demonstrating against the entirety of the oppressive dictatorship and seek real change.

Security forces have been cracking down brutally on protesters, despite calls from the international community on Iran’s regime to recognize the people’s right to protest.  Reports indicate thus far that over 3,700 people have been arrested and over 50 protesters have been killed.  Those who have been arrested are at high risk of torture and according to Amnesty International, five protesters have died while in custody.

“The Iranian authorities must immediately investigate reports that at least five people have died in custody following a crackdown on anti-establishment protests, and take all necessary steps to protect detainees from torture and prevent any further deaths,” said Amnesty.

One of the victims has been identified as 22-year-old Sina Ghanbari, who died in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.  Authorities claimed his cause of death was suicide, while rights activists believe he was killed. Another victim is identified as Vahid Heidari, who was arrested during the protests in Arak city (central Iran).

Following these alarming reports, the hash-tag #TheyKillPrisoners was created on Twitter to raise awareness on the critical situation in jails across Iran.  Iranian activist Shabnam Madadzadeh tweeted,

“As a former political prisoner, I testify that detainees in prisons are under physical and psychological torture and pressure.”

People utilizing the hash-tag also brought attention to the plight of Touran Mehraban, a young Iranian woman who was arrested in Orumieh (north-west Iran) for partaking in the protests.  Mehrabad has been subjected to torture and ill-treatment since her arrest on December 31, 2017.

A statement released on Wednesday, Jan 10th, by United States Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, called for the release of all political prisoners in Iran and all the demonstrators who were arrested.

“The Trump Administration is deeply concerned by reports that the Iranian regime has imprisoned thousands of ‎Iranian citizens in the past week for engaging in peaceful protests,” Sanders said.

She added,

“The United States calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran, including the victims of the most recent crackdown.” 

Since the start of the uprising, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and other members of his cabinet have been sending out encouraging messages of solidarity with the Iranian protesters.

The recent remarks by the U.S. administration should be echoed by the European Union and the entire international community. With the regime of Iran implementing a cruel and vicious campaign to crush the protests, now is high time for the EU to stand with the people of Iran who are risking their lives to obtain their freedom.

On Wednesday, supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) held a demonstration in Brussels, to call upon the EU to cancel the planned visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif which is scheduled for Thursday, Jan 11th.  Think about how Iran’s leaders will assess this trip.  To invite Zarif, a member of one of the most brutal dictatorships of our time, concurrent with reports of Iran detaining and killing protesters, will only embolden the mullahs’ to continue on with the crackdown.  Inviting Zarif, especially during such a critical time, goes against every principle and value the EU stands for.

The EU should join the Trump administration in calling for the release of political prisoners, and all governments should make their business ties with Iran contingent upon an end to suppression in Iran. It’s time to set all eyes on Iran’s regime, send a clear signal that they must halt the suppression, prioritize the principles of human rights and democracy, and stand in solidarity with the people of Iran in their struggle for freedom.