Iran’s notorious Evin prison and the paramilitary group Ansar-e Hezbollah have been hit with new US sanctions, for allegedly committing “serious human rights abuses” against its political dissidents and critics of the government.
In an announcement late on Wednesday, US Treasury Secretary Steven T Mnuchin said the two entities, as well as six individuals and a communications technology agency, played a role in the “brutal crackdown” of demonstrators following the recent deadly protests in the country.
Iran rejected the accusations of human rights abuses as “untrue” and “politically motivated”, the official news agency PressTV said.
Located in northern part of capital Tehran, Evin prison is notable for keeping political prisoners, dissidents and dual Iranian nationals accused of plotting against the government.
In February, Seyed Emami, a top environmentalist and university professor, died of mysterious circumstances while being held at Evin. British Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is also being held at Evin after being convicted in 2016 of conspiring to topple the Iranian leadership.
Evin’s prison guards have also been accused of torturing and killing people in custody. In 2003, a Canadian Iranian journalist, Zahra Kazemi, died of “brain haemorrhage resulting from beatings” after being detained for taking pictures of the prison.
The US alleges that Iran’s intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guard maintain permanent wards at Evin, “where they hold political prisoners”.
“Those who speak out against the regime’s mismanagement and corruption are subject to abuse and mistreatment in Iran’s prisons,” Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said.
The paramilitary group Ansar-e Hezbollah is also being targeted with sanctions for its alleged involvement “in the violent suppression of Iranian citizens” and for working with the Basij, a special Revolutionary Guard unit, to carry out attacks on student protesters using “knives, tear gas and electric batons”.
Three officials of the group were also included in the list including Hamid Ostad, a local leader in Mashhad, for being allegedly involved with a “mob attack” of Saudi Arabia’s consulate in that holy city.
Also targeted is Abdol-ali Ali-Asgari, president of Iran’s state broadcasting agency, IRIB, for his support of “censorship” on behalf of the government.
Ali-Asgari was appointed to the position in May 2016 by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. IRIB is also under sanctions since 2013.
“The Iranian regime diverts national resources that should belong to the people to fund a massive and expensive censorship apparatus and suppress free speech,” Mnuchin’s statement said.
Two other individuals linked to the communications technology group, Hanista, were also listed in the new sanctions. Hanista is reportedly involved in developing the messaging applications Mobogram and MoboPlus, as an alternative to Telegram, which has millions of subscribers in Iran. Telegram was recently blocked in Iran, but remains accessible using a virtual private network.
As a result of the new sanctions, all US properties and interests of the individuals on the list are blocked, and persons in the US, as well as financial institutions, are prohibited from engaging in business transactions with them.
Last week, new sanctions were imposed on an airline company that routinely transports Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Two senior officials of Iran’s central bank were also designated as “terrorists”, while several Revolutionary Guard officials were included in new sanctions for allegedly providing ballistic missile-related expertise to the armed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Also last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new policy towards Iran, declaring that unless Iran complies with American demands, it faces “the strongest sanctions in history” and “unprecedented financial pressure” from Washington, DC.