The US on Thursday (February 20th) slapped sanctions on five Iranian officials in charge of vetting candidates for this week's parliamentary elections, in which thousands have been barred from running.
The targeted officials are members of Iran's Guardian Council and its Elections Supervisory Committee, who are appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
They include Ahmad Jannati, a powerful cleric accused of overseeing the disqualification of candidates as part of the Guardian Council.
The ultra-conservative also plays a key role in a body that selects the regime's supreme leader.
They also include Mohammad Yazdi, who was most recently re-appointed by the Supreme Leader to the Guardian Council in July 2019 as a religious jurist.
Yazdi also served on the central supervisory committee for the upcoming presidential and midterm elections.
Additionally, as Iran's Judiciary Chief from 1989-1999, Yazdi abolished the Office of the Prosecutor, effectively rendering all judges prosecutors and leading to the widespread violation of basic human rights, according to the US Treasury.
The targeted officials also include Elections Supervisory Committee members Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, Siamak Rahpeyk and Mohammad Hasan Sadeghi Moghadam.
Deprived of 'free and fair elections'
"The Supreme Leader uses his appointees to deprive the Iranian people of free and fair elections by blocking candidates that do not mirror his radical views," it said.
"The Trump Administration will not tolerate the manipulation of elections to favour the regime's malign agenda, and this action exposes those senior regime officials responsible for preventing the Iranian people from freely choosing their leaders," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
"The US will continue to support the democratic aspirations of Iranians."
Voting for Iran's 290-seat parliament, or Majles, opens at 8:00 a.m. on Friday and lasts 10 hours, but can be extended. The first results are expected on Sunday.
Conservatives are expected to make an overwhelming resurgence in the vote, at the expense of those who back President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate conservative who was re-elected in 2017.
The interior ministry said around half of the 16,033 hopefuls would contest the election after the Guardian Council barred thousands, most of them moderates and reformists.
But the Council said it was "neutral" in its dealings with all political camps and acted in accordance with the law when it blocked their candidacy.
Commentators expect disillusionment among the 57 million-strong electorate in the sanctions-hit country to result in a low turnout.
Many people on the streets of Tehran have expressed dissatisfaction with politicians ahead of the election, saying they failed to keep their word or to raise living standards.