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EU sanctions 8 Iranian security officials over 2019 protests amid Vienna talks

The move to impose asset freezes and visa bans comes at a sensitive time as Brussels mediates efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal

Journalists wait in front of the Grand Hotel Wien where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)
Journalists wait in front of the Grand Hotel Wien where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The EU on Monday added eight Iranian security officials, including the chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, and three notorious prisons to a sanctions blacklist over a 2019 protest crackdown.

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.

The listing said Guard 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.

A soldier guards at a pro-government rally organized by authorities in Iran denouncing last week’s violent protests over a fuel price hike, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Also hit with sanctions is the head of the Basij paramilitary force, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s 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.

Iranians wave national flags during a protest in support of the Islamic Republic’s government and supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the northwestern city of Ardabil on November 20, 2019, as President Hassan Rouhani says the country’s people had defeated an “enemy conspiracy” behind a wave of violent street protests. (STR/AFP)

At least 304 people died in the unrest, according to London-based Amnesty International, while some authorities in Iran have announced 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.

Iran talks

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 leader Donald Trump had Washington withdraw from it.

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

US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to revive the agreement, which places limits on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in return for relief from biting 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 it coinciding with 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 individuals and four entities.

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

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