US President Joe Biden has said his administration will impose “further costs” on those responsible for violence against Iranian protesters, who have taken to the streets for more than two weeks in anger over the recent death of a 22-year-old woman in Tehran.
In a statement on Monday evening, Biden said he was “gravely concerned about reports of the intensifying violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in Iran, including students and women, who are demanding their equal rights and basic human dignity”.
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“This week, the United States will be imposing further costs on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protestors. We will continue holding Iranian officials accountable and supporting the rights of Iranians to protest freely,” he said.
The ongoing protests in Iran were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested in mid-September by the country’s so-called morality police for wearing “unsuitable attire” in the capital.
Amini’s death prompted an outpouring of anger against the Iranian government, with demonstrators demanding more civil liberties, including an end to the dress code imposed on women.
Dozens of people are believed to have been killed, while many others also have been arrested, but the authorities have not released an official tally.
On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made his first comments on the anti-government protests, accusing the US and Israel of being responsible for the unrest and seeking to stop Iran’s “progress”.
“I say explicitly that these riots and this insecurity were a design by the US and the occupying, fake Zionist regime [Israel] and those who are paid by them, and some traitorous Iranians abroad helped them,” Khamenei told graduating cadets at a police university in Tehran.
The Iranian authorities also have denied reports that Amini was beaten in custody.
Tehran’s police chief, Brigadier-General Hossein Rahimi, said last month that she was detained for wearing tight trousers and wearing her headscarf improperly, but that claims she was mistreated were “completely false”.
Still, the US and its allies have condemned Iran for Amini’s death and the government’s response to the subsequent protests — and large rallies have been held around the world in solidarity with the Iranian demonstrators.
Last week, Washington sanctioned Iran’s “morality police”, as well as seven leaders of Iranian security organisations that it said “routinely employ violence to suppress peaceful protestors and members of Iranian civil society, political dissidents, women’s rights activists, and members of the Iranian Baha’i community”.
Canada on Monday also sanctioned top Iranian security officials for what it said were “gross human rights violations”.
This included the “systematic persecution of women and in particular, the egregious actions committed by Iran’s so-called ‘Morality Police,’ which led to the death of Mahsa Amini while under their custody”, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government said in a statement.
Biden’s promise to impose more “costs” on Iran comes as talks to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have stalled.
The multilateral pact, which former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from in 2018, had seen Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting international sanctions against its economy.
While Biden had pledged to restore the deal, indirect talks have so far failed — and the US administration has continued to pile on a variety of sanctions against Tehran.
Late last week, the Biden administration promised to impose financial penalties on Iran on a “regular basis” in an effort to “severely restrict” Iranian oil and petrochemical exports.