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Senators unveil Iran sanctions bill following kidnapping plot on U.S. soil

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Senators unveil Iran sanctions bill following kidnapping plot on U.S. soil
American Journalist Masih Alinejad joins Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, discussing The Masih Alinejad Harassment and Unlawful Targeting Act (HUNT), which aims to impose sanctions against Iran for attempting to silence dissidents. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Pat Toomey on Thursday unveiled bipartisan legislation to impose mandatory sanctions against Iranian agents behind efforts to silence dissidents at home and abroad.

Named after an Iranian-American journalist and activist who was the target of a sprawling Iranian kidnapping plot that was foiled this past summer, the Masih Alinejad Harassment and Unlawful Target Act will impose mandatory sanctions against Iranian regime agents involved in surveillance, harassment, kidnapping or assassination of Iranian or U.S. citizens critical of the Iranian regime.

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It will also require the State Department to regularly report on the state of human rights and the rule of law inside Iran and mandate a continuous assessment of Tehran's targeting of dissidents at home and abroad, and how such suppression is financed.

The unveiling of the bill comes months after the Justice Department charged four Iranian operatives for planning to kidnap Alinejad from her Brooklyn home, abscond with her to Venezuela by boat, from where they'd make their way to Iran to be presumably jailed or executed. In September, the four men were sanctioned by the Treasury.

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"Never before has this regime in Tehran tried to abduct a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil," Toomey, R-Pa., said during a press conference. "This is a brazen escalation by the regime in Iran and it requires a proportional response."

Toomey called Alinejad an American hero, and said the threats against her life have only increased since the charges were announced while other dissidents within Iran and abroad have been targeted by the regime's repression campaign.

"Masih is one of the countless victims of Iran's ongoing transnational repression to silence dissidents and journalists," he said. "Clearly Iran is not getting the message that this malign behavior -- especially against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil -- is not going to be tolerated."

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Alinejad said the plot against her did not end with the charges announced in July but twice since then she has been forced to live in a safe house for her protection.

"So, my life is upside down because of the Islamic Republic. As far as the Islamic Republic is in power even here in America I don't have a normal life. And today I had to leave the safe house and come to Washington, D.C.," she said. "And why? I'm not a criminal. My crime is giving voice to Iranian voiceless people."

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Alinejad thanked the U.S. government's two parties for coming together on this bipartisan bill.

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"I strongly believe that human rights violation and what the Islamic Republic is doing to Iranian people and other dual national citizens should be a bipartisan issue," she said.

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