President Barack Obama has signed an executive order authorizing targeted economic sanctions against leading Iranian officials for human rights abuses following last year’s disputed presidential election.
The regime continues to crack down on dissenters, banning two reformist parties and imprisoning a leading blogger and journalist.
Announcing the measures today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner cited “mounting evidence” of repression of Iranian dissidents. But the administration remains concerned that the regime should not be allowed to credibly portray the indigenous opposition “as a U.S. enterprise”.
“Walking that line in trying to be both encouraging, forthright and strong in our support of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Iranian people, at the same time not giving any reason for the Iranians to claim that this reaction from within was somehow either motivated or directed or connected with us, required a balancing act,” said Clinton.
The sanctions target several hard-line officials, including Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, the current minister of intelligence. The individuals specified are considered personally responsible for the beating, blackmail, rape, torture, and murder of Iranian citizens.
“This is the first time that the United States has imposed sanctions on Iran based on human rights abuses,” said the Secretary of State. “We’ve always said that we not only cared about the nuclear program in Iran, we cared about the people of Iran, and we cared about their conditions in their country.”
Over the last 48 hours, the regime imprisoned two leading critics.
Hossein Derakhshan, a 35-year-old Canadian citizen, has been sentenced to 19½ years in prison. Known as the “Blogfather” for his role in launching the Farsi-language blogosphere, Derakhshan was convicted on charges of “cooperation with hostile states, propagating against the regime…[and] insulting sanctities,” among other charges.
“This sentence shows that the government is holding up Hossein as a symbol of what they’re calling a conspiracy of hostile governments against Iran,” said Ramin Jahanbegloo, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
Leading journalist Isa Saharkhiz has been imprisoned for three years on charges of insulting the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic. He outraged regime insiders during his trial by demanding Khamenei’s prosecution for violating the constitution and turning a blind eye to the torture of political prisoners.
An Iranian court has ordered the dissolution of two reformist political parties. The Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization were dissolved at the request of the Interior Ministry. Both parties supported Mir Hossein Mousavi’s candidacy in last year’s disputed presidential election.
While the regime has currently stifled the challenge of the opposition Green Movement, the ruling conservative elite is mired in factional conflicts that some observers suggest could eventually tear the regime apart.