WASHINGTON (AP) — A new bipartisan caucus in Congress is condemning the Iranian government over the recent poisoning of school girls in the country, amplifying the growing criticism in Washington against the Islamic Republic and its disregard for human rights.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, announced the formation of the Iranian Women Congressional Caucus with the support of nearly 20 Republican and Democratic members of the House.
It’s just the latest example of U.S. officials denouncing the treatment of women by the Iranian government since nationwide protests first erupted over the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s morality police. Amini was accused of violating Iran’s strict dress code for women by wearing her headscarf improperly.
Those protests, which mark one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 revolution, have continued for months. More than 500 people have been killed in demonstrations, according to human rights activists in Iran. Over 19,700 others have been detained by authorities amid a violent crackdown trying to suppress the dissent.
Earlier this year, the House overwhelmingly approved a resolution expressing solidarity with the protesters.
Since then, a series of suspected poisonings at girls’ schools across the country, which began late last year and have sickened hundreds of children, fueled claims about the violation of women’s and girls’ rights and prompted demonstrations.
Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, spoke publicly about the suspected poisonings last month. He said that if it is proven to be deliberate the culprits should be sentenced to death for committing an “unforgivable crime.”
Iranian officials only acknowledged the attacks in recent weeks and have provided no details on who may be behind the attacks or what chemicals, if any, have been used. Unlike neighboring Afghanistan, Iran has no history of religious extremists targeting women’s education.
Advocates and human rights groups have called on the U.S. and other Western democracies to cut ties with the Islamic Republic, including any ongoing nuclear negotiations between Washington and Tehran.
Last month, the U.S. took its criticism of Iran’s handling of the issue one step further by imposing more sanctions on the country, targeting people and firms accused of violating women’s rights during a crackdown on anti-government protests over the treatment of young women and girls.
Included in the sanctions are two prison officials, several firms that manufacture equipment for Iranian law enforcement, the commander-in-chief of the Iranian army and many others.
The congressional caucus announced Thursday includes more than a dozen lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who plan to write resolutions and draft potential legislation that focuses on women’s rights in Iran.
“So many Iranian women are showing their bravery and resiliency in the face of challenges in their fight for equality and human rights,” Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., one of the caucus members, said in a statement Thursday. “We will be on the side of freedom and oppose the oppression of women, in the United States, Iran, and around the globe.”