New U.S. Sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses

February 24, 2011

Robin Wright

      The United States imposed new sanctions on two top Iranian officials for engaging in “serious human rights abuses” since the disputed 2009 election. In a striking run of statements on February 23, the White House, State Department and Treasury Department issued three separate condemnations about Iranian government behavior against its citizens. Together, the three statements represented some of the toughest language from Washington since the election that resulted in a second term for hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
      The latest move also reflects the growing momentum behind the Obama administration’s human rights posture throughout the Middle East. “The historic events unfolding in the Middle East underscore the importance of protecting human rights around the world, which all nations have a responsibility to uphold,” the White House said in a statement following announcement of new sanctions. 
“As President Obama has said, human rights are a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity for the United States.  The people of Iran should be able to express their opinions and their grievances without fear of reprisal from their government.  The United States reaffirms its support to all those in Iran and around the world who are struggling to have their voices heard and rights respected.  We continue to call upon the Iranian government to respect the rights of its people and we will continue to hold accountable those who infringe upon those universal rights.
      The Treasury Department specifically named prosecutor general Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi and Basij commander Mohammed Reza Naqdi. The Basij are a paramilitary force used for both domestic and national security issues. Its members beat back protesters after the 2009 election and tens of thousands volunteered to fight during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq.
      “Today's action underscores our enduring commitment to support Iranians seeking to exercise their universal rights and expresses our solidarity with victims of torture, persecution, and arbitrary detention,” said State Department Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner in a statement from the Treasury Department outlining the new punitive measures.
       In its statement, the White House said that both men will be subject to financial sanctions and visa ineligibilities under U.S. law.  It also noted that the names are “not exhaustive and will continue to grow” as events unfold in Iran and additional information becomes available. 
      The new sanctions are based on a White House executive order signed in September 2010. The Treasury Department identified the role of the two key officials:
Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi : Appointed Tehran Prosecutor General in August 2009.  His office has indicted a large number of protesters and  charged many with Muharebeh, or enmity against God, which carries a death sentence. His office has also targeted and arrested reformists, human rights activists, and members of the media, as part of a broad crackdown on the political opposition.
Mohammed Reza Naqdi: Appointed Basij commander in October 2009. As commander of the IRGC’s Basij Forces, Naqdi was responsible for or complicit in Basij abuses occurring in late 2009, including the violent response to the December 2009 Ashura Day protests, which resulted in up to 15 deaths and the arrests of hundreds of protesters. Naqdi had headed the Basij intelligence unit responsible for interrogating detainees during the post-election crackdown and was in charge of an interrogation team at the Kahrizak detention center. At least three demonstrators are reported to have died as a result of injuries sustained at the Kahrizak detention center.
       Adam J. Szubin, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said  “Dolatabadi and Naqdi have no place in the international financial system.”
      In the third statement, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton chastised the Iranian regime for cracking down on protests over the previous two weeks, the first since the post-election unrest. “Over the past ten days, we have witnessed the bravery of thousands of Iranians who once again took to the streets to exercise their fundamental rights to peaceful assembly and expression,” she said in the statement.  “It has been made clear to the world that Iran denies its citizens the same fundamental rights it continues to applaud elsewhere in the Middle East.”
      Clinton said that the United States is troubled by reports of the executions of dozens of prisoners during the first two months of 2011. She called on Iran to free all political prisoners and persecuted minorities. 
Robin Wright, who has visited Iran regularly since 1973, is a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.