The US has called Iran’s media a ‘crucial tool’ of repression amid widespread protests.
The United States has ordered six senior journalists of the Iranian government, accusing them of broadcasting news to force them to interfere with the demonstrations taking place in Iran.
In a statement on Wednesday, the US Treasury Department said the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) recently released and aired “interviews of people who are being forced to admit that their family members were not killed by Iranian authorities” during protests.
Two of those punished, Ali Rezvani and Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, were identified as “interrogative journalists”, accused of colluding with Iran’s law enforcement agencies to accept forced disclosures.
“IRIB will not serve as a media outlet but as a vital tool in the Iranian government’s efforts to oppress its own people,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“We will continue to prosecute Iranian officials and government agencies for human rights violations.”
The sanctions freeze any U.S. goods owned by the six individuals and generally prohibit Americans from engaging in trade or commerce. The Treasury Department previously sanctioned the IRIB in 2013 for facilitating the spread of disinformation.
The sanctions are the latest move by the US to bolster Iran’s government, citing years of torture against activists, students and their families. In its statement, the Treasury linked the forced confessions to torture, intimidation and other “harassment”.
The announcement comes as Iran’s government grapples with widespread protests, sparked by the mid-September death of Mahsa Amini. A 22-year-old man was arrested by the Iranian police in the so-called “moral police” in Tehran for violating the country’s constitution.
Iran has denied that Amini was beaten in prison and responded to the protests with strict repression.
Iranian authorities have not released figures on the number of protesters who have been arrested or killed, but activists say hundreds have died in the ongoing protests.
An Iranian court handed down the first death penalty in cases related to the protests late Sunday, as well as five prison sentences for what the government called “terror”.
Iran’s parliament has also called on the courts to “deal decisively” with protesters, raising concerns from human rights groups who see it as a sign of growing government repression. Recently, false allegations circulated that the parliament had approved mass killings.
Iran’s mission at the United Nations has yet to comment on the new sanctions.
However, the Iranian government has previously rejected criticism of its human rights record and accused the US of seeking to destabilize the country.
Earlier this week, the European Union and the United Kingdom announced new sanctions against four members of the group that arrested Amini, as well as senior members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi.