U.S. sanctions Iranian officials over protest crackdown

USA and Iranian flags are seen in this illustration taken, September 8, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

WASHINGTON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on seven Iranian officials over the shutdown of internet access and the crackdown on peaceful protesters following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police.

The nationwide unrest sparked by Amini's death has spiraled into the biggest challenge to Iran's clerical leaders in years, with protesters calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic founded in 1979.

"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," Brian Nelson, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

The department said it imposed sanctions on Iran's minister of interior, Ahmad Vahidi; Communications Minister Eisa Zarepour; and Vahid Mohammad Naser Majid, the head of the Iranian Cyber Police, among others.

Washington accused Zarepour of leading the attempts to block internet access in a bid to slow the protests and Majid of using the cyber police to monitor Iranian internet users, filter websites and block content.

The United States also targeted two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders and senior officials with Iran's law enforcement forces.

Washington accused the law enforcement forces, overseen by the interior minister Vahidi, of using lethal force against protesters on multiple occasions and said its actions have led to thousands of deaths, including at least dozens in recent demonstrations.

Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. action freezes any U.S. assets of those designated and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. Those that engage in certain transactions with them also risk being hit with sanctions. Canada imposed sanctions on Monday. read more

Rights groups say thousands have been arrested and hundreds injured in the crackdown waged by security forces including the Basij, a volunteer militia affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Rights groups put the death toll at over 150.

The United States last month imposed sanctions on Iran's morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit responsible for the death of Amini, an Iranian Kurd who died after being detained in Tehran on Sept. 13 for "inappropriate attire." read more

Washington in September also issued guidance expanding the range of internet services available to Iranians despite U.S. sanctions on the country. read more

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Tim Ahmann; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell

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