The US imposes sanctions on Iran’s morality police, accusing the unit of abusing women

A woman walks on the street in Tehran, Iran on September 22, 2022. In the evening, Iranians have taken to the streets to protest the brutal death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code.

Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police on Thursday over allegations of abuse of Iranian women and said it held the unit responsible for the death of a 22-year-old in custody that has sparked protests across Iran.

The US 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 head 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 setting fire to police stations and vehicles earlier Thursday and reports of security forces under attack.

Amini, a Kurdish woman, was arrested by Tehran’s morality police for wearing “inappropriate clothing” and fell into a coma while detained. Authorities have said they would investigate the cause of her death.

“Mahsa Amini was a brave woman whose death in the custody of the morality police was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

“The Iranian government must end its systemic persecution of women and allow peaceful protests,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the sanctions.

A senior State Department official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said there would be more steps in the coming days, but gave no details.

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Asked if the US government was ready to provide Iranians with internet service via satellite, the official said: “We are looking at what we can do to provide greater support to those who are trying to express themselves peacefully… and we want to have more to say in the coming days.”

Access to social media and some content is strictly limited in Iran, and internet monitoring group NetBlocks reported on Monday “almost total” internet disruption in the capital of the Kurdish region, linking it to the protests.

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

It identified the others as Haj Ahmad Mirzaei, head of the Morality Police’s Tehran branch 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 the designees that fall under US jurisdiction were frozen and must be reported to the Treasury Department, the department said.

Foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate a material transaction or provide material services to those sanctioned may be subject to US sanctions, it added.

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