The United States issued sanctions on seven senior Iranian officials Thursday over the Iranian government’s violent crackdown on mass protests and restrictions on internet access in the country.
The massive protests sweeping Iran were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman detained by the country’s morality police on September 13 after being accused of violating the country’s conservative dress code.
The White House signaled the US was going to take further action against Iran over their response to the protests earlier this week. President Joe Biden issued a statement Monday promising further costs “on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protestors.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new US sanctions announced Thursday were due to Iran continuing to crack down on “the right to freedom of expression and right of peaceful assembly, including by shutting down access to the Internet” following the death of Amini.
Blinken said the continued costs that the Biden administration are imposing on Iran demonstrate the US support for the Iranian women who have been protesting for their rights.
“Today’s action follows the September 22 designation of the Morality Police, its senior leadership, and other senior security officials, and the release of Iran-related General License D-2, which together demonstrate that the United States stands with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights,” Blinken said.
The new sanctions target Iran’s Minister of the Interior, Ahmad Vahidi, who oversees all the country’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) that have been used to attempt to suppress the protests.
The sanctions also target Eisa Zarepour, the Minister of Communications, who is “responsible for the shameful attempt to block the internet access of millions of Iranians in the hopes of slowing down the protests,” the release from the Treasury Department states.
Five other Iranian officials are also being sanctioned, including the Deputy Operations Comander of the LEF Hossein Sajedinia, the Deputy Political Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Yadollah Javani, the head of the Iranian Cyber Police Mohammad Naser Majid, another IRGC Commander Hossein Nejat and Iran’s LEF police chief in Tehran Hossein Rahimi.
The sanctions came the same day Amnesty International released a report accusing Iranian security forces of killing 82 and injuring hundreds more in the southeast of the country.
“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these individuals that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons must be blocked and reported to” the office of foreign assets control, the Treasury Department release states.
“The rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly are vital to guaranteeing individual liberty and dignity,” Under Secretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said in a press release. “The United States condemns the Iranian government’s Internet shutdown and continued violent suppression of peaceful protest and will not hesitate to target those who direct and support such actions.”
Last month, the Treasury Department unveiled sanctions on Iran’s morality police “for abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protestors.”
Biden also said Monday the US was working to make it easier for Iranians to access the internet, “including through facilitating greater access to secure, outside platforms and services,” though officials have acknowledged the difficulty in doing so.
In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Biden alluded to the protests over Amini’s death and said the US stood with the “brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”
Amnesty International alleges 82 killed in southeast Iran
Iranian security forces killed at least 82 and injured hundreds in the southeast city of Zahedan of the Sistan and Baluchistan province after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas amid an ongoing crackdown on protests in the region, Amnesty International said in a report on Thursday.
Abdullah Aref, an organizer of the Baloch Activists Campaign (Faaleen) in Zahedan told CNN on Saturday that people were protesting the alleged rape of a Baloch girl by a police officer, when security forces began firing at protesters, at which point protesters set fire to the police station.
Zahedan, a city in the Sistan and Baluchistan province neighboring Pakistan, is home to the Baloch ethnic minority. The region has a history of unrest and violence with armed groups carrying out attacks against Iranian security personnel.
Amnesty said that the real death toll from Zahedan, given the evidence gathered from activists, victims’ families, eyewitness testimonies, and images and videos of the protests, is likely to be higher.
Total death toll figures since protests kicked off across Iran on September 18 vary from government, opposition groups, international rights organizations and local journalists. An Iran-focused human rights group based in Norway, IranHR, places the number of deaths since the protests started across Iran at 154. Human Rights Watch said as of September 31, Iranian state affiliated media placed the number of deaths at 60.