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Iranian Brigadier General Hassan Shahvarpour (file photo)

The United States has imposed sanctions on a senior military Iranian official over a crackdown on anti-government protesters, the State Department announced on January 17.

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Brigadier General Hassan Shahvarpour was banned from entering the United States for his role in crushing protests in November in the southwestern city of Mahshahr.

“General Shahvarpour was in command of units responsible for the violent crackdown and lethal repression around Mahshahr," U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook said, adding that Shahvarpour's designation was the result of photographic and video tips submitted to the department by Iranians.

"He oversaw the massacre of 148 helpless Iranians in the Mahshahr region," Hook told a news conference.

The department has received more than 88,000 such tips since it appealed for Iranians to report evidence of repression and gross human rights abuses, Hook said.

Tehran has denied accusations by the United States and human rights watchdogs of widespread repression but has acknowledged confronting separatists in Mahshahr that it said were armed.

Mahshahr, home to many from Iran's Arab minority, was a hotbed of protests that broke out after an abrupt hike in fuel prices.

Despite a fiery sermon on January 17 by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Hook said that Iran did not appear to be escalating the military conflict following the killing earlier this month of Major General Qasem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran's elite Quds Forces in a U.S. air strike in Baghdad.

"They appear to be standing down for now," Hook said. "But we have a combination of maximum economic pressure and restoring deterrence by the credible threat of military force if attacked."

Based on reporting by AP and AFP
Maksim Yablokov (left) is shown at a court hearing in Yaroslavl on July 25, 2018.

The second of at least 17 Russian prison guards charged in a high-profile inmate torture case has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

A court in Yaroslavl, some 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow, on January 17 convicted Maksim Yablokov of abuse of authority for beating three inmates. The court handed down the sentence the same day.

Two days earlier, former prison guard Sergei Yefremov, who made a deal with investigators, was sentenced to four years in prison.

Yablokov, who also made a deal with investigators, was arrested along with other prison guards of the Correctional Colony No. 1 in Yaroslavl in 2018 in the wake of public outcry after the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta released a video that showed a group of guards severely beating an inmate as he was pinned face down on a table.

Russian authorities announced at the time that similar complaints by inmates across Russia would be investigated.

Another probe was launched months later into the alleged torture of 25 inmates in a second prison in the Yaroslavl region.

The cases have shone a spotlight on what activists say is widespread abuse and torture in Russian prisons.

Valery Maksimenko, deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), said in 2018 that the country needs more prisons to hold police officers, prison guards, and other law enforcement agents who have been convicted of crimes.

He said that two new prisons that were opened for such prisoners earlier in 2018 were already full.

"It looks like an anti-corruption effort is under way, a cleansing is under way," Maksimenko said.

In Russia and some other former Soviet republics, convicted former law enforcement officers, prison guards, judges, and prosecutors serve their terms in detention facilities that are separate from regular prisons.

With reporting by Mediazona

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