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U.S. puts sanctions on Iran morality police, accusing unit of abusing women

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A girl walks on the road in Tehran, Iran on Sept. 22, 2022. Within the evening, Iranians have taken to the streets to protest after the brutal death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the country’s morality police for alleged violation of the Islamic dress code.

Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The USA on Thursday imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit chargeable for the death of a 22-year-old in custody that has sparked protests around Iran.

The U.S. Treasury Department also accused the morality police of violating the rights of peaceful protesters and said it had imposed sanctions on seven senior Iranian military and security officials, including the chief of the Iranian army’s ground forces.

Public outrage in Iran over Mahsa Amini’s death last week showed no sign of abating after days of protests in Tehran and other cities, with protesters torching police stations and vehicles earlier on Thursday and reports of security forces coming under attack.

Amini, a Kurdish woman, was arrested by the morality police in Tehran for wearing “unsuitable attire” and fell right into a coma while in detention. The authorities have said they might investigate the explanation for her death.

“Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in Morality Police custody was one more act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in an announcement.

“The Iranian government needs to finish its systemic persecution of girls and permit peaceful protest,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement.

Iran’s Mission to the United Nations didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on the sanctions.

A senior State Department official, talking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said there could be more steps in the approaching days but didn’t provide any details.

Asked if the U.S. government was ready to offer Iranians with web service via satellite, the official said: “We’re taking a look at what we will do to offer greater support to those that are attempting to specific themselves peacefully… and we’ll have more to say in the approaching days.”

Access to social media and a few content is tightly restricted in Iran and web monitoring group NetBlocks reported “near-total” disruption to web connectivity within the capital of the Kurdish region on Monday, linking it to the protests.

The senior officials designated included the morality police’s head, Mohammad Rostami Cheshmeh Gachi; the commander of the Iranian army’s ground forces, Kiyumars Heidari; and Esmail Khatib, Iran’s minister of intelligence, the Treasury said.

It identified the others as Haj Ahmad Mirzaei, head of the morality police’s Tehran division during Amini’s detention and death; Salar Abnoush, deputy commander of Iran’s hardline Basij militia; and Qasem Rezaei and Manouchehr Amanollahi of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces.

All property and interests in property of those designated that fall under U.S. jurisdiction was blocked and have to be reported to the Treasury, the department said.

Foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate a big transaction or provide significant services for those sanctioned might be subject to U.S. penalties, it added.

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