U.S. sanctions Iranian police for rights abuse

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Thursday it had sanctioned Iran’s national police force and police chief and two other security forces for serious rights violations since Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election.

The sanctions, announced by the U.S. departments of State and Treasury, apply to Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces and its commander Ismail Ahmadi Moghadam, and to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basij Resistance Force.

The sanctions would freeze any of the targets’ assets under U.S. jurisdiction and bar U.S. persons and institutions from dealing with them. They also make Moghadam and potentially all members of the groups ineligible for U.S. visas.

“Nearly two years after Iran’s brave citizens took to the streets, the struggle for civil liberties and fundamental rights continues,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referring to mass protests — subsequently crushed — following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection.

“Today, the United States has sanctioned three Iranian government entities complicit in the ongoing brutal repression,” she added.

The IRGC, which the Treasury blamed for violent crackdowns after the election, was already subject to the asset freeze and the ban on U.S. dealings under October 2007 sanctions that target weapons of mass destruction proliferators.

As a result, the only new sanctions on the IRGC are the visa restrictions.

The practical effect of the steps may be limited because it is unclear to what extent, if at all, the groups have assets under U.S. jurisdiction or their members may seek U.S. visas.

In the past, U.S. officials have argued that such sanctions have a multiplier effect as non-U.S. financial institutions cut off dealings with targeted groups so as to avoid falling afoul of U.S. regulations.

“Today’s action exposes Iran’s willingness to turn the machinery of the State, at its highest levels, against its own people to violently suppress their democratic aspiration,” said Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control.