By Tzvi Kahn
November 10, 2018
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned two Iranian banks on Monday for serving as “financial conduits” on behalf of key Iranian agencies responsible for serious human rights abuses. The little-noticed designations, which mark the first time Washington has designated Iranian banks for facilitating Tehran’s domestic repression, come as part of Washington’s larger imposition of sanctions on more than 700 Iranian individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels.
According to Treasury, the privately owned Ghavamin Bank “has provided extensive banking services and facilitated routine financial transactions” for the regime’s national police force, known as the Law Enforcement Force (LEF) of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Treasury previously designated Ghavamin Bank in 2014 as part of its broader efforts to sever Iran’s financial institutions from the international economy, but not for human rights abuses.
Since late 2017, the LEF has played a major role in subduing Iranian protesters, killing dozens in the process and arresting thousands more. The LEF’s cyber police unit censors online dissent, including social media accounts that seek to spread word about demonstrations. In 2011, the Obama administration sanctioned the LEF as a whole for similar misbehavior during the 2009 Green Revolution.
Ayandeh Bank, also privately owned, has aided the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the regime’s state-owned media conglomerate, which routinely broadcasts forced confessions of political prisoners and censors other outlets. The United States had never previously sanctioned Ayandeh Bank for any malign conduct. In 2013, Washington did designate the IRIB itself, yet for reasons that remain unclear, both the Obama and Trump administrations have repeatedly waived the sanctions since then. In May 2018, Treasury sanctioned the IRIB’s director, Abdulali Ali-Asgari.
The designation of financial institutions that support human rights violators constitutes a welcome development in U.S. sanctions policy. However, Washington has yet to target numerous Iranians for their roles as architects of widespread abuses, including some key officials tied to the IRIB and LEF.
These figures include Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari, the chief of the LEF, and Minister of the Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, who oversees the LEF. Gholamhossein Gheibparvar, the commander of the Basij, or religious police, routinely collaborates with the LEF in suppressing dissent. Notorious judges such as Abolghassem Salavati and Mohammad Moghiseh habitually impose draconian sentences, including lengthy jail terms and the death penalty, on political prisoners incarcerated by the LEF and the Basij.
Similarly, the United States could sanction Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, the minister of information and communications technology, who administers a vast telecommunications infrastructure that monitors and blocks countless Iranian websites. The IRIB and Jahromi’s ministry have competed for regulatory authority over online multimedia content. And of course, Washington should stop waiving sanctions on the IRIB, a key part of the regime’s campaign to control the media and advance its radical Islamist propaganda.
The Trump administration has already signaled that more sanctions are on the way, though it has not identified prospective targets. “We’re gonna have sanctions that even go beyond this,” said National Security Advisor John Bolton on Monday. “We’re not simply going to be content with the level of sanctions that existed under Obama in 2015.” By enacting new sanctions that penalize the regime’s top human rights violators, President Trump can give added weight to this commitment.