The European Union has imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police and information minister over their alleged roles in the security crackdown against anti-government protests that erupted after the death of a 22-year-old woman in government custody.
Two leading morality police officials, Mohammad Rostami and Hajahmad Mirzaei, are among 11 people whose assets were frozen by the 27-nation bloc on Monday. They are also banned from travelling in Europe.
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The Iranian Law Enforcement Forces and a number of local police chiefs were also targeted “for their role in the brutal repression of the protests”, said a statement released after EU foreign ministers endorsed the sanctions at a meeting in Luxembourg.
Information Minister Issa Zarepour was listed for his alleged responsibility in an internet shutdown after the protests started.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the EU “cannot and will not close our eyes” to the crackdown in Iran. “It is also clear that if this regime continues to pummel its population in this way, there will be further targeted sanctions packages against those responsible,” she said.
In the statement, the EU condemned “the widespread and disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters. This is unjustifiable and unacceptable. People in Iran, as anywhere else, have the right to peacefully protest, and this right must be ensured in all circumstances”.
Iran said there would be an “immediate” response to the sanctions.
The list was drawn up before a deadly fire at Tehran’s Evin prison, where the government holds Iranian political prisoners, dual nationals and foreigners.
The EU has been alarmed at the Iranian government’s bloody crackdown on protests sparked by last month’s death of Mahsa Amini, who was taken into custody after morality police accused her of failing to wear her Islamic headscarf appropriately.
The demonstrations have since morphed into anti-government street protests.
The EU foreign ministers accused the morality police and their Tehran and national police chiefs of being responsible for Amini’s death.
“According to reliable reports and witnesses, she was brutally beaten and mistreated in custody, which led to her hospitalisation and to her death on 16 September 2022,” they said.
The Basij force, a paramilitary group affiliated with the powerful Revolutionary Guard, was listed for its “particularly harsh” crackdown on protesters, “resulting in the deaths of multiple people”. It is “directly responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran”, the EU sanctions list said.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have already announced their own sanctions against Iran for human rights violations taking place during the protests.
Tehran has responded by accusing the US of fomenting the protests.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn was sceptical that the sanctions would “hurt” Iran.
But he said: “This regime may have worked during the last 40 years, but it is not working now. And that is why the European Union has to take this first step.”
The protests erupted as hopes are fading of restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was torpedoed when then-US President Donald Trump withdraw from it in 2018.
Over the past year and half, the EU has been coordinating efforts, so far unsuccessfully, to bring the US and Iran back into full compliance with the agreement, which aims to curb Iran’s nuclear programme.