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Public Statements

Freedom Protests

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. BLACKBURN. Madam President, we are in the wake of another global event or happening, if you will. No matter what it is, we always have people who come in on the back side and, as I say, are a bunch of armchair quarterbacks and Monday morning quarterbacks, and they are trying to put their spin on what should have been done and what wasn't done. I think that is probably a pretty good analogy when we think about the football game that took place last night.

What ought to be a serious discussion about national security or human rights inevitably devolves into a political argument about who should be allowed to score the most points off the blood and bravery of people who are fighting half a world away. Here is a suggestion for each of us: In times of conflict or unrest, instead of looking to the pundits and listening to a lot of pundits, why don't we look to the people themselves who are involved in these conflicts?

After the U.S. strike that took out Qasem Soleimani, armchair quarterbacks calling plays for the left picked up on what the propaganda arm of the Iranian regime was selling. Bear in mind, I just said the propaganda arm. After Tehran downed its own jet though, shouldn't the conversation have pivoted to the outraged protests not against Americans but against the Iranian Government? After all, those protests were fueled not by the act of one man but by months of domestic turmoil and decades of brutal repression by the Iranian regime against the people of Iran. Of course, it didn't pivot. The false narrative of the mad American President prevailed, even as the people of Iran railed against the brutality of the ayatollahs and the inexplicable recklessness of their own military. They were saying one thing, and the media said something else.

In a stunning display of bravery, the people of Iran risked their lives--yes, they are risking their lives. In November, 304 got shot taking to the streets. The Revolutionary Guard brought about by Soleimani were shooting this week at people who were protesting and begging--begging for a little bit of freedom. It is amazing to me that it doesn't get acknowledged.

The decisive elimination of Soleimani exposed the regime's extreme vulnerability on the global stage, and I think the ayatollahs in Iran know this. This is why we saw them respond with threats against America at large. It is why they strong-armed the Iraqi Parliament into its foolish stand against American troops, why they arrested the United Kingdom's Ambassador for attending a peace vigil, and why they violently retaliated against civilian speech. They know they are losing this argument. Tehran failed at silencing dissent. Their goal is to convince the rest of the world to ignore the protests of the Iranian people.

Authoritarianism is not bound to one particular region or ideology. As we saw last year, the repressive behavior of Communist China backfired on officials in Beijing. In their case, there wasn't an airstrike or an incursion. There was just a simple but disastrous piece of legislation that would have jeopardized the already-strangled human rights of every citizen in Hong Kong--not just a few but everybody, blanket coverage. Don't be caught speaking out against China and against Beijing.

The fallout from that violation is now legendary. Millions took to the streets on behalf of democracy and self-determination and turned Beijing's agenda on its head. Their protests captured the attention of the entire world and inspired others struggling to survive under Communist rule to speak up.

This past Saturday, the people of Taiwan poured some additional salt on Beijing's wounds by delivering a stunning electoral rebuke against the Communist Party. Taiwanese citizens cast a record number of ballots, pulling the pro-democracy ruling party out of a 2-year skid and validating President Tsai's embrace of anti-Beijing protesters in East Asia. Let me tell you, China knows exactly who is to blame for this, but in official statements they are writing off the results of the election as a mere fluke, and they are blaming--get this--foreign interference for their humiliation. They couldn't possibly be responsible for this.

I have to tell you, the election may be over, but you can count on China to find other ways to coerce Taipei into submission. They will likely continue to pressure Taiwanese businessmen and workers living on the mainland to toe the party line and engage in more military drills around Taiwan, with the goal of muscling away diplomatic support. It is all part of their playbook.

Threats gilded in official policy are standard operating procedure for authoritarian regimes, but overt crackdowns on dissent still loom large over the heads of their people. Last December, China threatened to sanction the non-governmental organizations that backed pro- democracy legislation in Hong Kong. On Sunday, they suddenly refused entry to activists from Human Rights Watch without even pretending to provide a plausible explanation. Imagine that. They have moved so far in repression, they wouldn't even let Human Rights Watch in the country to see what it is that they are doing to their people.

Make no mistake, regimes like those in China or Iran are vicious and powerful, but right now, they are running on nothing but fear of their very own people, their own citizens. The fear is what drives them to repression, abuse, and murder, but time and again they forget that someone is always watching. The same technology that allows them to spy on and manipulate their adversaries allows freedom fighters to tweet, to live stream, and broadcast some of these crimes that are being committed by these oppressive regimes.

The people of Iran and China have flung themselves onto the frontline of a global fight for individual rights and individual freedom, but don't neglect those risking life and limb in places like Lebanon, where peaceful opposition to authorities is labeled as criminal defamation-- imagine that, criminal defamation if you peacefully oppose the authorities--or in Morocco, where journalists have been jailed with impunity for unveiling corruption. You find corruption, you report it in the press, and they lock you up for telling the truth--or Burma or India or Algeria. There are dozens more examples.

If you want to understand what is happening, look to the people. Listen to them and pay attention to their history as they seek to write their future.


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