By Paul Handley (AFP) – Feb 23, 2011
WASHINGTON — The United States boosted pressure on Iran Wednesday by slapping sanctions on the head of the feared Basij militia and Tehran's prosecutor general for rights abuses during the country's 2009 pro-democracy uprising.
The US Treasury said it had designated Mohammad Reza Naghdi, head of a militia that operates under Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, for involvement in "serious human rights abuses in Iran since the June 2009 disputed presidential election."
"Today's designations highlight the complicity of two Iranian officials in significant human right abuses against the Iranian people," said Treasury official Adam Szubin in a statement.
"Dolatabadi and Naghdi have no place in the international financial system," he said.
The two were especially tied to the violent government crackdown on protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a Shiite commemoration on December 27, 2009, which the Treasury said left up to 15 people dead and hundreds under arrest.
The protests saw the most violent clashes with security forces since the initial post-election unrest seven months earlier.
The Treasury said that before becoming Basij head in October 2009, Naghdi was the group's intelligence chief responsible for interrogations of reform leaders and demonstrators 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," it said.
Dolatabadi, who became Tehran's prosecutor general in August 2009, was cited for having arrested protest leaders charged under Islamic sharia with "moharebeh" -- acting as enemies of God -- which brings the death penalty.
Those facing the charge were denied due process in their trials, Treasury said.
"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," it added.
The sanctions freeze the two men's assets in the United States or held by any US company. In addition, Americans were prohibited from doing any business with them and they cannot receive visas to visit the United States.
The move was the second against Iran under a US presidential order in September permitting the Treasury to sanction foreign officials for human rights violations.
On September 29, eight ministers, security officials and law officials, including Naghdi's predecessor, were sanctioned.
The two named Wednesday were key figures in the crackdown on pro-democracy advocates over the past year and a half, said Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights.
"Dolatabadi is involved in all the prosecutions of all 500 people who have been convicted" for their links to the protests," he said.
"Systematically he has been involved in widespread denial of due process and human rights.... He has been sort of the screw that holds the prosecutions together," including allowing confessions gained via torture to be used as evidence, said Ghaemi.
Naghdi, he added, was behind the role of the Basij militia in the deadly Ashura violence.
The human rights-based sanctions are separate from a long series of Treasury sanctions on Iran linked to its suspected nuclear weapons program.
"A lot of people were focusing on the nuclear problem and ignoring everything else," said Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick.
"In a way, this (the human rights violations) is a more endemic problem... we have lots of pictures of what the Basij has been doing," he said.
The White House said that more Iranians could be hit with rights-related sanctions "based on events in Iran, and as additional information and evidence becomes available."
"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," it said in a statement.
"The people of Iran should be able to express their opinions and their grievances without fear of reprisal from their government ... We will continue to hold accountable those who infringe upon those universal rights."
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