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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

US report identifies Iranians responsible for repression

Conservative thinktank calls for sanctions against individuals to put further pressure on Tehran

A US think tank has included Iran's Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli among a list of 12 officials who should face US sanctions. AFP
A US think tank has included Iran's Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli among a list of 12 officials who should face US sanctions. AFP

Twelve senior officials described as key players within Iran’s infrastructure of repression should be targeted when President Donald Trump reimposes sanctions next month, an influential US think tank said in a report on Tuesday.

The 12 – who include ministers, a former presidential candidate and senior judicial officials – are complicit in funnelling funds for terrorist plots abroad, forced confessions and the torture of rights activists, according to a conservative think tank with strong links to the Trump administration.

The list includes the ministers of intelligence, interior and justice who have responsibility for cracking down on dissent within Iran, said the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

It says the 12 officials should be individually targeted using the Magnitsky Act, legislation passed in 2016 to target human rights offenders around the world, to freeze their assets and ban them from entering the United States.

Many of those identified in the report came to prominence under Hassan Rouhani, who became president in 2013, and had a history of rights abuse. “They rose within the Iranian bureaucracy because of their abuses, not in spite of them,” the report said.

The US has imposed restrictions on 55 entities and individuals for human rights breaches under the Trump and Obama administrations.

New designations slowed in the run-up to the 2015 nuclear deal, which has now been dumped by Mr Trump, clearing the way for an uptick in sanctions, said the FDD.

It said that many of the worst offenders remained untouched by sanctions and individual targeting of key regime leaders has the “potential to strengthen the morale of protesters, raise the concern of other democratic governments and undermine the self-serving narratives promoted by the regime”.

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They include Ebrahim Raisi, a former presidential candidate and conservative cleric who was complicit in the killings of thousands regime opponents in 1988.

The current minister of intelligence, Mahmoud Alavi, is also on the list. He has not been sanctioned despite two previous incumbents and the ministry all sanctioned by the Obama regime.

The FDD also identified Abolghassem Salavati, one of the harshest figures in Iran’s judiciary, who has overseen the case of Iranian-British charity administrator Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was jailed in 2016 for what her supporters say are trumped charges of acting against the clerical regime.

Gholamhossein Gheibparvar, the head of the Basij religious police, which has been at the vanguard of efforts to subdue protests against the clerical leadership, is also on the list. It includes senior prison and education figures and officials who harnessed technology to crack down on nationwide protests from 2017.

Bill Browder, an investor turned campaigner who was behind the Magnitsky Act following the death of one of his employers in Russia, said the best way to change regime behaviour was to “create a climate of fear… and to go after them individually”.

The US has used the Magnitsky Act more than 120 times against targets in countries including Myanmar, Nicaragua, Russia and China but has not yet been used against Iran, said Mr Browder.

But with senior regime figures keeping assets in Iran and rarely travelling abroad, critics said that any strengthening of targeted sanctions would amount to “political grandstanding” that would have little impact on policy in Tehran.

The key to changing Iranian attitudes is for European powers to bargain hard for reforms as they negotiate plans for continued trade and investment in return for limitations on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

The FDD said it was optimistic that the Trump administration would act on its recommendations. “The feedback we have received in private discussions so far has been positive,” said Tzvi Kahn, the author of the report and FDD senior Iran analyst.

In a speech in July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that regime leaders “must be made to feel painful consequences of their bad decision making” but stopped short of promising fresh sanctions against individuals.

In the speech in California, he named several senior Iranian officials already subject to sanctions including Sadiq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary.

“I’m a little sceptical that a thieving thug under international sanctions is the right man to be Iran’s highest-ranking judicial official,” he said.