EU imposes sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard chief over 2019 crackdown

Iran suspends talks with EU after Hossein Salami and seven other officials blacklisted for lethal suppression of protests

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 24, 2018  Hossein Salami deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attends a public funeral ceremony for those killed during an attack on a military parade on the weekend, in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appointed a new head of the Revolutionary Guards, the country's ideological military force, Khamenei's official website reported today.
Major General Hossein Salami, 58, replaces Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, who had headed the Guards since September 2007.

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Eight Iranian security officials were hit with EU sanctions on Monday, including the chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, over a 2019 protest crackdown, prompting Iran to suspend talks with the bloc on a range of issues.

The move to impose asset freezes and visa bans, effective immediately with publication in the bloc's official journal, comes at a sensitive time as Brussels mediates efforts to revive the nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran.

In response, Iran's foreign ministry announced the suspension of talks with the EU, including on human rights and co-operation on terrorism, narcotics and refugees.

The EU sanctions listing said Guards commander Hossein Salami "bears responsibility for serious human rights violations".

Those under his command had "used lethal force to suppress the November 2019 protests in Iran, causing the deaths of and injuries to unarmed protesters", it said.

Also hit with sanctions is the head of the Basij paramilitary force, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' ground forces, and Iran's police chief.

Three detention facilities where the EU alleged torture of detainees had taken place were put on the blacklist.

In November 2019 a surprise hike in fuel prices sparked a wave of protests across Iran, before they were put down amid a near-total internet blackout.

At least 304 people died in the unrest, according to London-based Amnesty International, while some authorities in Iran have cited 230 deaths during what they claimed were "riots".

The United Nations said there were mass arrests following the events of 2019, but no details have been released about how many were detained and how many are still held.

The decision to target the top Iranian officials was unveiled as negotiators in Vienna try to make progress on efforts to return the United States to the 2015 nuclear deal after former president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.

The EU described the talks as "constructive", with those involved looking to persuade Washington to drop sanctions reimposed by Mr Trump and for Tehran to roll back breaches of the agreement.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to revive the agreement, which places limits on Iran's nuclear programme in return for relief from economic sanctions.

But Tehran and Washington each insist the other side must make the first move.

A European diplomat told AFP that the decision on new sanctions had been in the pipeline for a long time and that it had been decided to press ahead with them despite the nuclear negotiations.

The EU sanctions list on rights abuses in Iran dates back to 2011, when the authorities launched a crackdown on major protests. It now contains 89 individual and four entities.

It is separate to the sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear programme, which were dropped by Brussels as part of the 2015 deal.