US sanctions Iranian morality police and blames them for Mahsa Amini death

Measures come as deadly protests escalate in Iran

People clash with police during a protest following the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, Iran. EPA
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The US on Thursday sanctioned Iran's morality police and blamed the notorious force for the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being detained for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly.

“Today, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is designating Iran’s morality police for abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters,” the Treasury said.

Amini, who was from Iran's western Kurdistan province, fell into a coma after being arrested by morality police in Tehran last week. Her death has prompted days of deadly protests, with at least 31 people now thought to have been killed in authorities' response to the demonstrations.

The woman's father claimed that Iranian authorities covered bruises on Amini's body and refused to allow her family to see them.

“Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in morality police custody was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.

“We condemn this unconscionable act in the strongest terms and call on the Iranian government to end its violence against women and its ongoing violent crackdown on free expression and assembly.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added: “We mourn with her loved ones and with the Iranian people.”

Sanctions were placed on Mohammad Rostami Cheshmeh Gachi, head of the Iranian morality police; Haj Ahmad Mirzaei, who heads the morality police's division in Tehran; and five other security officials involved in repressing protesters.

Iran protests — in pictures

The department said Mr Rostami declared earlier this year that the morality police would punish Iranian women who refuse to wear the hijab.

The Treasury accused the sanctioned officials of routinely using violence to “suppress peaceful protesters”, as well as members of Iranian civil society, political dissidents, advocates for women's rights and those belonging to the Baha’i community

“The Iranian government needs to end its systemic persecution of women and allow peaceful protest. The United States will continue to voice our support for human rights in Iran and hold those who violate them to account,” Mr Blinken said.

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday declared his support for protesters during a speech at the UN and his administration has been quicker to condemn the growing protest movement than Barack Obama did with Iran's Green Movement in 2009.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, also in attendance at the UN General Assembly this week, reportedly backed out of an interview in New York because the television interviewer refused to wear a headscarf.

An aide of Mr Raisi told CNN's Christiane Amanpour the Iranian president would only participate if she wore a headscarf, referring to “the situation in Iran”.

“I politely declined. We are in New York, where there is no law or tradition regarding headscarves,” Ms Amanpour wrote on Instagram, next to a picture of her facing an empty chair. “As protests continue in Iran and people are being killed, it would have been an important moment to speak with President Raisi.”

Sanctions from the Treasury Department aim to freeze any assets designated people might have in the US and also forbid them from conducting business dealings with Americans and US companies in an attempt to place limits on their financial networks.

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Updated: June 13, 2023, 12:17 PM