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Blinken: U.S. must speak out 'clearly' in support of people's rights to protest amid Iran crackdown

Blinken praised the “extraordinary courage” of women in Iran who have been “standing up, speaking up, speaking out for their basic rights.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Bucharest, Romania, on Nov. 29, 2022.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Bucharest, Romania, on Tuesday. Vadim Ghirda / AFP - Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday, voiced his support for the protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini amid Tehran's crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.

Blinken commented on the "extraordinary courage" of women in Iran who have been "standing up, speaking up, speaking out for their basic rights." He also praised both the U.S. and Iranian men's soccer teams for their performance in the World Cup, which has become a political flashpoint amid the protests, after the American team dealt Iran a loss on Tuesday.

Blinken said the U.S. has sanctioned those involved in trying to repress the ability of the Iranian people to speak out and has worked to ensure that Iranians have the technology needed to communicate with one another.

"For the most part we’re trying to do what we can do to make clear that we support what Iranians are asking for, demanding in the streets which is to be heard, to be able to make their views known peacefully, and not to have this terrible repression that we’re seeing," Blinken said.

Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died in September a few days after being taken into custody by morality police in Tehran for allegedly failing to fully cover her hair and defying the country’s strict dress codes. Her death has sparked outrage across the country. 

Asked whether the U.S. can take more actions in response to the bloody crackdown on protests in Iran that have led to the deaths of women, Blinken stressed that the protests are about Iranians and not any other country, before going on to criticize the regime for blaming other countries for "somehow being responsible for instigating what’s happening."

"That’s not at all the case, and to misunderstand their own people is at the heart of the problem that they’re facing," Blinken said. "But the most important thing we can do is to speak out very clearly ourselves in support of the people’s rights to protest peacefully."

Blinken also took aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin over energy supply cuts in Ukraine caused by Russia’s heavy bombardment of the country’s infrastructure.

What Putin cannot achieve on the battlefield, he is instead "taking to civilians across the country by trying to deny them heat, electricity, deny them water, to freeze them, to brutalize them in ways that we haven’t seen Europe in decades," Blinken said. "And that’s playing out across the entire country."

As the U.S. spends millions in repairing substations, Blinken said Washington is working on helping Ukraine make its energy and electricity infrastructure "more resilient" and ensuring that Ukrainians can defend their infrastructure against Russia.

Blinken also condemned crackdowns on demonstrations in China against the government's strict “zero-Covid” policies.

"In any country where we see that happening, and then we see the government take massive repressive action to stop it, that’s not a sign of strength, that’s a sign of weakness," Blinken said.