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Pompeo slaps new sanctions on Iran, imposes more visa restrictions

Pompeo slaps new sanctions on Iran, imposes more visa restrictions

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBiden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden faces challenges, opportunities in Middle East O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' MORE announced new sanctions against Iran on Thursday, targeting individuals in the judicial courts and security services in response to fallout from popular protests in the country that started last month.

The move by the Trump administration comes as part of its maximum pressure campaign on Tehran to rein in the country's nuclear ambitions and negotiate an end to its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Pompeo said Thursday that the State Department is also imposing visa restrictions on current and former Iranian officials found to be responsible or complicit in human rights abuses against peaceful protesters. He did not name the officials subject to the new restrictions, but said they would also extend to family members.

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“Thugs killing people’s children will not be allowed to send their own children to study in the United States of America,” Pompeo said.

The secretary announced new sanctions on two judges in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court: Abdolghassem Salavati and Mohammad Moghisseh, whom the administration charged with handing out harsh and excessive sentences for human rights activists, political prisoners and protesters, including the death penalty, 100-year prison terms and public lashings.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that Salavati has earned the moniker “Judge of Death” and was also the judge who sentenced to 10 years American citizen Xiyue Wang, who spent three years in an Iranian prison before being released in a prisoner exchange on Dec. 7.

“We’re glad we won Xiyue’s release,” Pompeo said, “but he should have never been sentenced or jailed in the first place.”

The secretary made his remarks during a symposium held at the State Department addressing Iran’s record on human rights abuses and emphasizing a commitment by the U.S. to stand with the Iranian people.

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The move follows an increasing pattern by the Trump administration to single out Iranian individuals for sanction designation in an effort to show solidarity and support to the broader Iranian public.

Pompeo’s statements are also serving to counter accusations by Iran’s leaders that the U.S. is behind the popular protests.

“The United States will stand, and has stood under President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE, with the Iranian people,” Pompeo said. “Our public support, our moral support is important. Our calls for justice matter. A call for a normal nation with a real economy, for accountability.”

Iranians took to the streets in mid-November to protest an abrupt rise in fuel prices. The peaceful demonstrations quickly spread to over 100 cities but was met with a brutal crackdown by Iranian security forces.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 300 people have been killed, more than 4,000 have been injured and 7,000 have been detained.

The secretary said Thursday that Tehran stands accused of killing “hundreds and hundreds of protestors since mid-November, possibly 1,000.”

Within a week of the start of the protests, the Treasury Department announced sanctions on Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology in response to reports of an internet and communications blackout in the country.

Pompeo called for Iranians to send video and photographic evidence of human rights abuses the department could use to identify and punish perpetrators. To date, the department has said it has received approximately 36,000 communications.

The video and photographic evidence shared with the department helped inform the sanctions and visa restrictions announced Thursday, the secretary said.

“These are serious measures, they are thoughtful measures that took us a little bit of time to get to the right place.”

Pompeo also admonished Tehran for its persecution of minority ethnic and religious groups and announced that the U.S. was redesignating Iran as a “country of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act,” a precursor to sanctions aimed at protecting religious minorities.

The U.S. International Commission of Religious Freedom has designated Iran as a “country of particular concern” in subsequent annual reports on what it describes as egregious violators of religious freedom.

“I have a message for the leaders of the regime,” Pompeo said. “If you seek to recover respect from your people and the world, if you seek stability and prosperity for a once great nation, you must respect the commitments that you’ve made, you must respect human rights.”

Iranian-American groups, supportive of international efforts to promote human rights in Iran, say the Trump administration has other tools that can show solidarity with the Iranian people, including ending the ban on Iranians traveling to the U.S. and expanding exemptions for trade and telecommunications that allow Iranians to access international communication applications.

“We would encourage the administration to update and expand trade exemptions on telecommunications tools that would promote civil society in Iran and work to end the Travel Ban against the Iranian people,” said Morad Ghorban, director of government relations and policy for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans.

“The ban is counterproductive to engaging the Iranian people and supporting their democratic aspirations.”