US issues more Iran sanctions over crackdown on protests

US targets top Iranian security officials for alleged role in ‘violent suppression’ of anti-government demonstrations.

Iran protest
A rally in support of Iranian anti-government protesters outside City Hall in Los Angeles, US, on October 1 [File: Bing Guan/Reuters]

Washington, DC – The Biden administration has issued new sanctions against Iranian officials over what it called the “violent suppression of protests” following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in Tehran.

The penalties announced on Thursday target Ahmad Vahidi and Eisa Zarepour, Iran’s interior and communications ministers, respectively, as well as the head of the Iranian cyber-police force, Vahid Mohammad Naser Majid, and four other security officials.

Washington accused the sanctioned individuals of being involved in “violence against peaceful protesters and the shutdown of Iran’s Internet access“.

“The rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly are vital to guaranteeing individual liberty and dignity,” US Treasury official Brian Nelson said in a statement.

“The United States condemns the Iranian government’s Internet shutdown and continued violent suppression of peaceful protest and will not hesitate to target those who direct and support such actions.”

The sanctions block the Iranian officials’ assets in the US and restrict global financial institutions from doing business with them, as well.

Iranian demonstrators have taken to the streets for weeks after Amini, 22, died after she was arrested in the capital Tehran for “unsuitable attire” last month. Dozens of people have been killed in the continuing protests, and many others arrested.

Iranian police have denied that Amini was beaten in custody, but her case has mobilised demonstrations across the country, igniting global outrage against the government.

Earlier this week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blamed Israel and the US for the demonstrations, which he referred to as “riots”. He also played down Amini’s death as an “accident”.

Government supporters also organised counter-protests.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden pledged to impose additional costs on those responsible for the crackdown on the demonstrations and voiced support for the protesters.

Last month, Washington also relaxed sanctions on Iran’s technological sector to enable greater access to the internet amid disruptions and the blocking of social media platforms.

The Biden administration also sanctioned Iran’s “morality police“, who had arrested Amini.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that the latest sanctions “demonstrate that the United States stands with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights”.

Despite the slew of economic measures, the US has said it is still willing to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran based on mutual compliance.

The pact, which the two sides are struggling to restore after former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018, saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on its economy.

Source: Al Jazeera