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OPINION

Europe Extends Sanctions Against Iran

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Kirsty Wigglesworth

Coinciding with mass demonstrations in Brussels by supporters of the main Iranian democratic opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), European ministers agreed on March 20 to add eight Iranians and one of the Tehran government's most powerful bodies to EU sanctions lists, citing human rights violations. The protesters, on the eve of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, were calling for the blacklisting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the theocratic regime’s Gestapo, already designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US. The EU has, until now, been reluctant to follow America’s example, arguing that it would be complicated to determine the legal basis for such a blanket designation of the entire group, which although it is an armed military entity, controls over 70 percent of the Iranian economy. The IRGC, which pays no taxes, is solely answerable to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Nevertheless, the EU’s foreign and defense ministers, also meeting in Brussels, agreed that several leading Iranian clerics, judges and a well-known broadcaster, were guilty of playing prominent roles in the regime’s brutal crackdown on nationwide anti-government protests, which have continued now for seven months. The uprising began last September, following the death in custody in Tehran of the young Kurdish girl, Mahsa Amini, detained and savagely beaten by the morality police for not wearing her hijab properly. The EU ministers said they were in particular “sanctioning members of the judiciary responsible for handing down death sentences in unfair trials and for the torturing of convicts.” They also stated that the mullahs’ Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution institution was guilty of promoting “several projects undermining the freedom of girls and women and discriminating against minorities.”

The new list of sanctions was announced as the UN special rapporteur on Iran, Professor Javaid Rehman, told the UN Human Rights Council that Iran’s violations of human rights, particularly during the recent months of anti-government protests, amount to crimes against humanity.  

“The scale and gravity of the violations committed by Iranian authorities, especially since the death of Ms Amini, points to the possible commission of international crimes, notably the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, and persecution,” he said. Pointing out that so far four young protesters have been executed since the beginning of the uprising, and at least 17 others have been sentenced to death, while more than 100 face charges that carry the death penalty, Professor Rehman added: “These summary executions are the symbols of a state ready to use all means to instil fear and quash protests.”

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The UN expert’s damning report has come as several EU Member States have called for the total blacklisting of the IRGC as a terrorist organization.They regard the IRGC as primarily responsible, together with their Basij religious paramilitary colleagues, for the vicious crackdown on protesters, including their use of tear gas, baton-attacks, birdshot, and a shoot-to-kill policy. In Britain, where there has been an ongoing debate on whether to blacklist the IRGC, the UK government announced that it has also sanctioned senior IRGC officials, targeting those responsible for managing the group’s financial investments. The sanctions - an asset freeze and UK travel ban - were imposed on five members on the Board of Directors of the IRGC Co-operative Foundation and two senior IRGC commanders operating in Tehran and Alborz provinces. The UK’s foreign secretary James Cleverly said: “Today we are taking action on the senior leaders within the IRGC who are responsible for funnelling money into the regime's brutal repression.”

The IRGC was set up by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the Shi'ite clerical ruling system and to export Islamic fundamentalism. It has an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units, and commands the Basij religious militia often used in the suppression of domestic protests. It has been responsible for backing terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, as well as providing massive financial and military support to Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Shi’ia militias in Iraq. IRGC personnel have been directly involved in countless terrorist attacks in the Middle East and worldwide, which is what led to their blacklisting by President Donald Trump. Senior IRGC commanders have accumulated great wealth and often send their children abroad for education. Many have purchased mansions in elegant parts of London and other European cities. They will be hit hard by sanctions.

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In January, the European Parliament voted by a huge majority to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.  The vote was 598 to 9, with 31 absentees. Although the European Parliament’s role in such matters is only advisory, their overwhelming support, together with the public backing of the Parliament’s President Roberta Metsola and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, is building an irresistible case for proscribing the IRGC. EU appeasers who have clung forlornly to the fantasy of resurrecting the defunct nuclear deal with the Iranian regime, have resisted blacklisting the IRGC in case it drove the mullahs from the negotiating table. However, unfolding events exposing the regime’s savage repression and crackdown on peaceful protests has rendered such a proposal unthinkable. The time has come for the EU and the UK to designate the IRGC as terrorists. Such a move would come as a final death blow to the mullahs and would be a major aid to the Iranian people in their quest for regime change.

Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change (CiC). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). Struan is also Chair of the ‘In Search of Justice’ (ISJ) committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and is also president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). His latest book is entitled ‘Dictatorship and Revolution. Iran - A Contemporary History.’

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