WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government has announced financial sanctions against eight Iranian officials for their role in what U.S. officials describe as "serious and sustained human rights abuse" violations committed in the year since Iran's disputed presidential election.
"On these officials watch or under their command, Iranian citizens have been arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured, raped, blackmailed, and killed," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a Washington press conference alongside Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
The executive order, which President Barack Obama signed on September 28, targets eight officials, among them former and current ministers and the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). It freezes any U.S. assets they might own and bars them from receiving a visa to travel to the United States.
A 'New Tool'
Clinton said the move was the first time the United States had targeted Iranian officials for punishment for human rights abuses but probably wouldn't be the last time.
She said the U.S. government now has at its "disposal a new tool that allows us to designate individual Iranians, officials responsible for or complicit in serious human rights violations, and do so in a way that does not in any way impact on the well-being of the Iranian people themselves."
"In signing this executive order, the president sends the message that the United States stands up for the universal rights of all people and as President Obama said at the United Nations last week, we will call out those who suppress ideas," Clinton said, adding, "We will serve as voice for the voiceless, and we will hold abusive governments and individuals accountable for their actions."
A White House statement said, "The United States will always stand with those in Iran who aspire to have their voices heard," and it reiterated the administration's call for the Iranian government "to respect the rights of its people."
Brutal Government Crackdown
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets last summer to protest the reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in June 2009. The demonstrations lasted for weeks, and so did the regime's furious response. Human rights and opposition groups accused the government of torture, rape, and murder, and thousands of people were arrested and held without charge.
The individuals sanctioned by the United States were each judged responsible for some of the worst abuses. They are: Mohammed Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; Sadeq Mahsouli, minister of welfare and social security; Qolam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, former minister of intelligence and current prosecutor general; Saeed Mortazavi, former prosecutor general; Heydar Moslehi, the current minister of intelligence; Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, deputy commander of the armed forces; Ahmad-Reza Radan, deputy chief of Iran's National Police, and Hosseijn Taeb, deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for intelligence.
The White House said Jafari led forces who participated in beatings, murder, and arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters in the aftermath of the Iranian election.
An Iranian judicial investigation found Mortazavi responsible for ordering the detention of three political prisoners who died after being tortured in prison. He was suspended from his post in August.
Mahsouli was minister of the interior during the June 2009 election, and as such, had authority over the police forces and Interior Ministry security agents. The joint statement from the State Department and Treasury Department said Mahsouli's forces "were responsible for attacks on the dormitories of Tehran University on June 15, 2009, during which students were severely beaten and detained."
A Targeted Sanctions Approach
Speaking alongside Clinton, Treasury Secretary Geithner said the United States has adopted an approach to Iran that focuses on "specific actors, institutions, and actions that threaten our interests as a whole."
"Our goal is to enact strong, effective measures that will pressure the leadership of Iran to abandon their dangerous course, and we will continue to find ways to target illicit conduct in all areas that threaten our interests," he said.
Earlier this year, the United States announced unilateral financial sanctions against Iran's banking and financial sectors.
In June, the UN Security Council approved a fourth round of sanctions against Tehran for lack of transparency in its nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is for civilian energy and medical use only.
by Heather Maher with agency material