The United States on Thursday sanctioned seven senior Iranian leaders for their role in shutting down the country’s internet access and the crackdown on dissidents protesting the death of a young woman in the custody of the country’s morality police for failing to properly cover her hair with a hijab. 

The Treasury Department targeted Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi and the country’s communications minister, Eisa Zarepour, along with five other officials in Iran’s security apparatus. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, “The United States condemns the Iranian government’s continued violent suppression of protests following the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the so-called morality police. The Iranian government has since cracked down on the right to freedom of expression and right of peaceful assembly.” 

Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said, “The rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly are vital to guaranteeing individual liberty and dignity. The United States condemns the Iranian government’s internet shutdown and continued violent suppression of peaceful protest and will not hesitate to target those who direct and support such actions.” 

The sanctions freeze any assets the seven Iranians might hold in the U.S. and blocks them from making any financial transactions, while prohibiting Americans from doing business with them. 

Security police tied to casualties 

Treasury said Vahidi maintains oversight of Iran’s law enforcement forces (LEF), which are deployed to quell protests. It said the security police are responsible for “at least dozens of casualties in the recent demonstrations” and that Vahidi has “explicitly threatened protesters who continue to challenge the regime and has defended the brutal actions of LEF officers in suppressing ongoing protests.” 

Treasury said Zarepour “is responsible for the Iranian government’s shameful attempt to block the internet access of millions of Iranians in the hopes of slowing down the protests.” The U.S. agency said he “has indicated that the internet clampdown and silencing of voices online will continue as long as protests persist.” 

The Treasury Department sanctions came after U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier this week, “The United States stands with Iranian women and Iranian citizens who are inspiring the world with their bravery. We’ll continue to support the rights of Iranians to protest freely.” 

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the widespread protests following Amini’s death are not the actions of “ordinary Iranians.” He accused the United States and Israel of planning the demonstrations. 

The protests, now in their third week, have been met with a crackdown by police and security forces. A tally of government statements compiled by The Associated Press gave a death toll of at least 14 people with 1,500 arrests, while rights groups say at least 130 are dead with thousands arrested.  

Khamenei said the death of Amini was a “sad incident” and that he was heartbroken.  

Iran’s morality police arrested Amini in Tehran for allegedly not following the country’s strict dress code, and she died in a hospital three days later after falling into a coma.  

The government said she died of a heart attack. Her family rejected that account, saying Amini had no history of heart problems and that she was instead beaten. They called for accountability.