US Senators bluntly charged Thursday that Iran's presidential vote was rigged and vowed to help the opposition defeat curbs on news and the social networking Internet sites it has used to organize.
"The truth is, this election was rigged and the people in Iran are trying to speak out, and we need to help them," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said amid deep shock and anger in Washington at the deadly post-election turmoil.
Shooting back at angry Iranian charges of improperly meddling in its affairs, Republican Senator John McCain declared: "We don't take the side of either candidate. There seems to be some confusion about that.
"We take the side of the Iranian people to have human rights, to have the freedom that we deem universal," said McCain, his party's 2008 presidential candidate.
Graham, McCain, and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman said they aimed to boost US-backed radio news broadcasts into Iran and help skirt Iranian restrictions on cellular phones and Internet access.
"We want the Iranian people to be able to stay one step ahead of the Iranian regime, getting access to information and safely exercising freedom of speech and freedom of assembly online," said Lieberman.
McCain said the legislation aimed to boost funding to Radio FARDA, a part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, to help the Farsi-language outlet battle Iranian jamming, and to make cellular telephone crackdowns more difficult.
"The fact is that the Iranian government is now illegitimate," he charged.
Other goals include boosting Voice of America broadcasts in Farsi and helping Iranians preserve access to social networking Internet sites like Twitter and Facebook and the video-sharing site YouTube, which protestors used to organize and disseminate images of the government's crackdown, said McCain.
"During the Cold War, we provided the Polish people and dissidents with printing presses. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are the modern-day printing presses. They are the way to spread information and keep the hope of freedom alive amongst the Iranian people," said McCain.
The bill, to be written over the congressional break for the July 4 US independence day celebration, would seek to give Iranians the tools "to evade the censorship and surveillance of the regime online," he said.
And McCain vowed to investigate charges that non-Iranian firms helped Tehran monitor and block cellular and online traffic "and even track down sources of political content deemed off limits by the regime."
All three lawmakers praised US President Barack Obama for making his toughest remarks yet on Iran during a press conference Tuesday, denouncing the crackdown and warning of worsening relations with the international community.
"I appreciate it," said McCain, who had sharply criticized Obama's previous remarks, while Graham declared: "I'm very proud of my president, about what he said."
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