WASHINGTON – The Obama administration stepped up pressure against Iran's government on Wednesday, slapping financial and travel sanctions on eight Iranian officials and accusing them of taking part in rampant human rights abuses.
Under an executive order signed this week by President Barack Obama, the State and Treasury departments jointly announced the sanctions that target Iranians who "share responsibility for the sustained and severe violation of human rights in Iran," notably after last year's disputed presidential elections.
At a State Department news conference, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was the first time the United States has imposed sanctions on Iranians for violating human rights. The step adds another layer to already heavy U.S. sanctions on Iran, which in the past have been imposed over the country's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
"On these officials' watch or under their command, Iranian citizens have been arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured, raped, blackmailed and killed," Clinton said. "Yet the Iranian government has ignored repeated calls from the international community to end these abuses."
The move bars the eight Iranians from entering the United States, blocks any of their U.S. assets and prohibits Americans from doing business with them.
Although none of the eight is believed to have substantial assets in U.S. jurisdictions, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he expects foreign financial institutions to stop doing business with them.
"We have found that then we single out individuals and expose their conduct, banks, businesses and governments around the world respond by cutting off their economic and financial dealings with these individuals, these institutions, these businesses," Geithner said.
Among the eight Iranians targeted Wednesday is Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and one his top deputies, Hossein Taeb. Jafari is already subject to U.S. sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program.
The administration said that forces under the command of Jafari and Taeb participated in beatings, murder and arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters in the aftermath of the June 2009 Iranian election.
Also named were Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, four current and former police chiefs and prosecutors, and Sadeq Mahsouli, currently Iran's minister of welfare and social security.
Mahsouli was minister of the interior at the time of the June 2009 election, and in that role had authority over all police forces and Interior Ministry security agents, the administration's announcement said.
"His forces were responsible for attacks on the dormitories of Tehran University on June 15, 2009, during which students were severely beaten and detained," the joint Treasury and State statement said.
Clinton said that despite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent claims that human rights were respected and protected in Iran, the situation has worsened since the elections. She noted that this week alone, two reformist political parties and two newspapers were shut down.
"The steady deterioration in human rights conditions in Iran has obliged the United States to speak out time and time again," Clinton said.
The White House portrayed the sanctions as a reflection of U.S. efforts to support peaceful change in Iran.
"The United States will always stand with those in Iran who aspire to have their voices heard," a White House statement said.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.