The United States has imposed restrictive measures on the five unelected members of an Iranian government agency it accuses of fixing national elections that are set for later this week.
The Treasury Department announced the sanctions against the members of Iran’s Guardian Council and its Elections Supervision Committee on February 20, a day before the election.
The United States accuses the agency of disqualifying candidates who don’t follow the policies of the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The sanctioned men include Ahmad Jannati, a powerful cleric who is also the secretary of the Guardians Council. Jannati had taken part in “vetting” candidates, Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, said at a February 20 briefing in Washington.
Hook said the election committee “denied more than 7,000 candidates the right to run for a parliamentary seat" in the February 21 poll. An additional 90 sitting members of parliament were disqualified from running for reelection, he added.
Jannati and the four other sanctioned members "have denied the Iranian people free and fair" elections, Hook said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that "clerics like Jannati have deprived the Iranian people of a real choice at the ballot box for the last 41 years."
He added that the “Iranian people oppose this regime’s brutality at home and its violent misadventures abroad. They deserve the opportunity to express their opinions without being marginalized or massacred. The voices of the Iranian people must be heard."
In a statement early on February 21, one of the Iranian election officials affected by the sanctions said the U.S. actions show a disdain for democracy.
"America's regime has shown through illegal sanctions...on members of the Guardians Council that it has nothing to do with democracy," Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei wrote on Twitter.
"We are now even more determined to safeguard the people's vote," he added.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a separate statement that "the Trump Administration will not tolerate the manipulation of elections to favor the regime's malign agenda, and this [sanctions] action exposes those senior regime officials responsible for preventing the Iranian people from freely choosing their leaders."
The measures also apply to Mohammad Yazdi, a member of Iran's Guardians Council who was formerly the country's first judiciary chief. The other three members of the election committee are Kadkhodaei, Siamak Rahpeyk, and Mohammad Hasan Sadeghi Moghadam.
The sanctions will freeze any property belonging to the individuals in the United States and prohibit U.S. citizens from conducting financial transactions with them.