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April 25 2023

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Ten Points to Know About the MAHSA Act

Navid Mohebbi

What exactly is the “MAHSA Act” and why has it galvanized unprecedented support and interest from the Iranian-American community? This comprehensive Q&A will attempt to answer frequently asked questions about the MAHSA Act, such as whether these sanctions are already in place, its impact on the United States’ ability to reenter the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), and the bill’s significance in the larger context of addressing human rights abuses and terrorism connected to the Islamic Republic regime. It will also delve into the bill’s effect on the Iranian-American community and discuss potential future steps following the MAHSA Act.

The Persian version of the op-ed was first published in Independent Persian.


What is the MAHSA Act?

The MAHSA Act, or H.R. 589, is a landmark piece of legislation that confronts urgent issues of human rights abuses and terrorism by imposing stringent property and visa-blocking sanctions on select individuals and entities at the highest levels of the Islamic Republic, including the Office of the Supreme Leader and the economic empire that office controls, the President, and their appointees.

Who is Mahsa Amini, and why is the bill named after her?

Mahsa Amini was a young woman whose murder at the hands of the so-called morality police became the catalyst for a resurgence of nationwide anti-regime protests in Iran. The MAHSA Act was named in her honor after consultations with the Iranian-American community.

How does the MAHSA Act differ from prior sanctions? Is it redundant legislation?

While similar sanctions have existed before, the MAHSA Act is the sole actionable piece of legislation currently on the table that specifically addresses human rights in Iran. It introduces a time constraint on the response and mandates the President to report back to Congress, ensuring the oversight and accountability powers of the legislative branch. The MAHSA Act lays out a meticulous process for identifying individuals who warrant sanctions. It also allows the President to hold mid-level perpetrators, such as judges, prosecutors, and local police chiefs, accountable in a standardized, recurring manner. Reports are due within 90 days upon enactment and yearly thereafter. NGOs and human rights groups can submit names for consideration via the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House or Senate Foreign Affairs Committees, which the President must then evaluate and report back on within 60 days. Furthermore, this legislation applies to future officeholders, including the next Supreme Leader and President.

Does the MAHSA Act force the President to sanction anyone?

No, the President is not forced to impose sanctions on any individual or entity. Under Section 2(c)(1) of the legislation, the President is simply required to determine within 90 days of the enactment of the legislation, and annually thereafter, whether or not the individuals and entities referred to them meet the requirements to be sanctioned under the authorities listed in Section 2(c)(2). The President then must communicate whether or not they plan to sanction these individuals and if the decision is made not to sanction, the President must offer justification.

Does the MAHSA Act introduce new sanctioning mechanisms?

No, the MAHSA Act does not introduce any new sanctioning mechanisms. The sanctions listed in Section 2(c)(2) of the MAHSA Act reference existing legislation, such as the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment (CAATSA)  Act of 2010 as well as several Executive Orders, from administrations of both parties. While the MAHSA Act does not introduce new mechanisms of sanctioning, it does provide a clear framework for enforcement and annual review of these sanctions, in addition to enhancing Congress’s oversight role in the process.

Does the MAHSA Act impact the US’ ability to reenter the JCPOA?

The MAHSA Act does not codify these sanctions and primarily focuses on human rights-related issues, steering clear of nuclear-related matters. NUFDI has long opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, this fact, combined with the fact that many of Iran’s top regime officials are already sanctioned, makes it unlikely to negatively impact the US’ ability to reenter the JCPOA. Regardless of the MAHSA Act’s effect, the JCPOA is, at its core, a deeply flawed agreement, and the realities on the ground in Iran have changed immensely since the deal was in place.

How has the MAHSA Act affected the Iranian-American community?

The MAHSA Act has had a profound impact on the Iranian-American community, uniting it in support of the bill and igniting unprecedented civic activism and engagement. Countless Iranian Americans have sent letters, traveled from throughout the United States to Capitol Hill, and learned about the nuances of the American legislative system as they engage their lawmakers. The women-led nature of the Mahsa Amini protests had an effect here in the US as well, empowering Iranian-American women to stand up for their Iranian sisters against the brutal gender-apartheid system of the Islamic Republic.. This signifies a momentous step toward building political power for Iranian Americans and serves as a blueprint for future political endeavors.

What is the significance of the MAHSA Act in the larger context of addressing human rights abuses and terrorism connected to the Iranian regime?

The MAHSA Act is a crucial step toward addressing the deeply-rooted human rights abuses and terrorism connected to the Iranian regime. For the last five years, since the beginning of the revolutionary movement in Iran that continues today the Islamic Republic has used the same brutal tactics of torture, imprisonment, and execution to suppress its own people. It is time the mid-level enforcers of this brutal cycle be held accountable, for which this legislation allows. This legislation represents a remarkable opportunity for Congress to take decisive action and make a stand for justice and change that will resonate within the community for years to come.

What comes after the MAHSA Act?

While the MAHSA Act alone is not enough to address the egregious human rights violations of the Islamic Republic, it does serve to pave the way for the development and implementation of additional Iran legislation that is focused on human rights abuses and support of the Iranian people. The MAHSA Act is simply the first in what should be a new US strategy on Iran– Maximum Support– that includes further legislation to enhance existing sanctions, new targeted sanctioning mechanisms, and measures to empower civil society and democratic institutions within Iran. This legislation will ultimately contribute to a more stable and democratic Iran, benefitting both the Iranian people and the international community.

What is the likelihood of the MAHSA Act successfully passing through Congress and subsequently being signed into law by the President?

To date, this bill has garnered significant bipartisan support, including backing from prominent Democratic representatives. While its approval appears more straightforward in the US House of Representatives, where Republicans hold the majority, the situation in the US Senate is more complex due to the Democratic majority. However, at the time of this article, there has been no substantial opposition from Democrats or explicit disapproval from the White House. As a result, the bill’s passage seems probable, but not certain. The ultimate factor in the bill’s approval and its eventual transformation into law may be the ongoing engagement of the Iranian-American community and the influence of public opinion.