Top Iranian officials sanctioned for human rights abuses

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo and AFP

In this file photo Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli speaks during a press conference in the Iraqi city of Najaf on September 29th, 2019. The US imposed sanctions on Fazli and other top Iranian officials on May 20th. [Haidar Hamdani/AFP]

In this file photo Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli speaks during a press conference in the Iraqi city of Najaf on September 29th, 2019. The US imposed sanctions on Fazli and other top Iranian officials on May 20th. [Haidar Hamdani/AFP]

The US government imposed sanctions on Wednesday (May 20th) on an Iranian government minister and senior law enforcement and military officials over human rights abuses.

"The Iranian regime violently suppresses dissent of the Iranian people, including peaceful protests, through physical and psychological abuse," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

"The US will continue to hold accountable Iranian officials and institutions that oppress and abuse their own people."

The sanctions are the latest in a series of measures against the Iranian regime.

They target Interior Minister and chairman of Iran's National Domestic Security Council Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, seven law enforcement officials and a provincial commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Treasury alleged Fazli has issued orders authorizing Iran's Law Enforcement Force (LEF) to use "lethal force in response to the November 2019 protests, resulting in violence against peaceful protestors and bystanders".

"His orders led to the killing of many protestors, including at least 23 minors."

The US also targeted IRGC Brig. Gen. Hassan Shahvarpour Najafabadi, LEF commander Hossein Ashtari Fard and deputy commander Ayoub Soleimani.

The sanctions block all US assets and property of the officials and prevent US financial institutions from dealing with them.

The steps also have implications for foreign banks and businesses which can run afoul of US authorities if they deal with sanctioned officials or firms.

The State Department also sanctioned Fazli for "his involvement in gross violations of human rights".

The US government said the LEF was "responsible for or complicit in serious human rights abuses that have occurred since the disputed June 2009 presidential election and ensuing protests".

The LEF also operates detention centres associated with physical and psychological abuses, and was implicated in the torture and drowning of Afghan nationals attempting to cross into Iran, according to the US government.

'Think a thousand times'

"These sanctions will have an impact in the short and long term by pressuring Iranian officials to think a thousand times before repeating those actions," said Iranian dissident writer and political analyst Ali Narimani.

At the same time, he told Al-Mashareq, Iran's security apparatus continues to employ the same approach in dealing with demonstrations: suppression, killing and stifling public and personal freedoms.

While Iranian media and propaganda outlets actively promote the notion that Iran is in good shape, he said, these efforts are no longer fooling anyone inside the country or abroad.

"Everyone knows that the Iranian people are now living under dire conditions as a result of the IRGC's policies and the sanctions that have come as a consequence of its projects and aggressions in the region," he said.

The new US sanctions "will provide significant impetus to the demonstrators to continue staging protests", Tehran native Hossein Shayan told Al-Mashareq.

The sanctions make it clear that "the events in Iran are being watched by the entire world and the Iranian people are not alone in their battle", he said.

"This psychological support is very important for the protestors in view of the pressures, arrest campaigns and shooting with live bullets they are being subjected to in an attempt to dissuade them from demonstrating," he said.

As the coronavirus crisis abates, Shayan said, he expects protests to resume.

He noted, however, that thousands of prisoners of conscience are still incarcerated for their opposition to the Iranian regime, despite repeated announcements by Iranian officials that thousands have been released.

"The continued imposition of sanctions on Iranian entities and officials will tighten the blockade on Iran and the IRGC," Iranian affairs researcher Fathi al-Sayed told Al-Mashareq.

The sanctions are "aimed at stopping the attacks on the people inside Iran" as well as Iran's menacing activities in the countries of the Middle East, he said.

The US sanctions campaign targets "international companies, governmental institutions and banks" as well as those that have ties to sanctioned individuals and institutions, he said, "and the list is long".

"The wiggle room Iran can use to circumvent the sanctions even partially is being shrunk with every new package of sanctions, and this will serve as a powerful and effective pressure tool in reining in the IRGC's plans," he said.

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