The United States continues to turn the screws on Iran with its “maximum pressure” campaign, announcing another round of sanctions on Wednesday – this time targeting Iran’s interior minister as well as senior law enforcement officials, over allegations of grave human rights violations.
The US Treasury is accusing Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli of engaging in serious human rights abuses against Iranians during protests that swept the country in November after the government announced a surprise fuel price hike.
In a statement, the Treasury said Fazli authorised the Law Enforcement Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran (LEF) “to use lethal force” against protestors, resulting in the killing of many, including at least 23 minors.
“His – and the regime’s – goal was to quash these peaceful protests and suppress the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression at any cost,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a separate statement.
The Treasury on Wednesday also blacklisted seven senior officials with the LEF including commander Hossein Ashtari Fard, and a provincial commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), also accusing them of engaging in human rights abuses during last year’s protests.
An investigation by human rights group Amnesty International found that Iran’s security forces unlawfully resorted to lethal force to suppress the 2019 nationwide protests, resulting in the death of over 300 protestors and bystanders including 23 children.
The LEF Cooperative Foundation – which the Treasury says is controlled by the LEF and is active in Iran’s energy, construction, services, technology and banking industries – was also sanctioned, along with its director and members of the board of trustees.
The Treasury action freezes any US-held assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
Washington also barred Rahmani Fazli and Ali Fallahian, the head of Iran’s intelligence service from 1989 to 1997, from travelling to the US. The US Department of State said Fallahian was involved in assassinations and attacks around the world.
“The United States will continue to hold accountable Iranian officials and institutions that oppress and abuse their own people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and embarked on a campaign to economically squeeze Tehran through successive rounds of sanctions targeting individuals and entities.
The US has continued to apply new sanctions despite calls by United Nations officials and some governments around the world to temporarily suspend such penalties during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration sanctioned Chinese-based Shanghai Saint Logistics, accusing the firm of acting on behalf of Iran’s Mahan Air – which is also on the US Treasury blacklist.
Beijing on Wednesday called the sanctions “illegal” and said the US should “correct its mistake”.
“It is legitimate and legal for parties in the international community to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation with Iran that is in accordance with international law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular media briefing.