UK vows to ‘lead international opposition’ to Iran as head of UN Security Council

British FM announces ramped up sanctions against Tehran for human rights abuses, says decision on further measures ‘is firmly in the hands of the Iranian regime itself’

Opposition protesters hold up placards after a march marking the 44th anniversary of Iranian Revolution, in Trafalgar Square, central London on February 11, 2023. (Susannah Ireland/AFP)
Opposition protesters hold up placards after a march marking the 44th anniversary of Iranian Revolution, in Trafalgar Square, central London on February 11, 2023. (Susannah Ireland/AFP)

In the first week of its presidency of the UN Security Council, the United Kingdom took an aggressive stance toward Iran, announcing Thursday a raft of new sanctions over human rights abuses and expanding existing penalties by imposing further criteria under which individuals and entities can be hit.

The new sanctions by the Foreign Office apply to 13 individuals and entities allegedly involved in torture in prisons, surveillance of regime opponents, and repression of women. They come on top of over 350 UK sanctions already in place.

The UK will also “lead international opposition to Iran’s weapons proliferation and nuclear escalation” at the Security Council, the ministry said, adding that it plans to denounce Tehran’s behavior at Thursday’s meeting, which will be attended by Iran’s ambassador to the UN.

London has presented new evidence to Security Council members that Iran is continuing to send weapons to Houthis in Yemen and to Russia.

“The Iranian regime is oppressing its own people, exporting bloodshed in Ukraine and the Middle East, and threatening to kill and kidnap on UK soil,” said UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in a statement. “Today the UK has sent a clear message to the regime — we will not tolerate this malign behavior and we will hold you to account. Our new sanctions regime will help to ensure there can be no hiding place for those who seek to do us harm.”

Cleverly also told MPs in parliament that the “further measures” were “a toolkit that I would prefer not to use.”

But he said “the decision on whether I do so or whether I do not, is firmly in the hands of the Iranian regime itself.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in central London on July 4, 2023. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

London accuses Iran of stepping up efforts to kill or kidnap perceived enemies of its regime, including in the UK.

It says the Iranian intelligence services have developed close relationships with organized criminal gangs in Britain and across Europe to help target opponents.

The latest measures add to ones already taken over Tehran’s hardline response to protests that have rocked the Islamic Republic since the September 2023 death in custody of Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old had been arrested for an alleged breach of strict dress rules for women.

‘Credible threats’

Demonstrations swept Iran after Amini’s death, with at least thousands arrested since then, according to the United Nations and rights groups.

Ten months on, Iran was still punishing those suspected of involvement in the mass protests, according to a UN fact-finding mission that reported its findings on Wednesday.

“Harsh punishments continue to be meted out to those involved in the protests, including for exercising rights protected under international human rights law,” Sara Hossain, chair of the independent international fact-finding mission, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Most chilling, seven men have already been executed following hasty proceedings marred by serious allegations of fair trial violations, including confessions extracted under torture.”

Iranians protest the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained by the morality police, in Tehran, October 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Middle East Images, File)

Since the start of the year, the UK has imposed dozens of asset freezes and travel bans, citing alleged human rights abuses, on Iranian individuals and organizations including leading Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders and Tehran’s prosecutor general.

The United States and the European Union have also toughened their own sanctions.

According to London, since the start of 2022, the UK has uncovered “more than 15 credible threats to kill or kidnap British or UK-based individuals by the Iranian regime.”

In February, the independent Iran International TV said it had been forced to shut down its London studios due to an escalation in “state-backed threats from Iran.”

It followed the arrest of an Austrian man near the studios in southwest London who was later charged with “collecting information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.”

The British government summoned Iran’s top diplomat in London over “serious threats” to the lives of UK-based journalists.

The BBC meanwhile has repeatedly complained of an ongoing campaign of threats and intimidation against journalists for its Persian-language service and their families at home and abroad, which it has blamed on Iran.

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