The U.S. government on Wednesday accused two Iranian officials of involvement in "serious human rights abuses" and blocked any assets they might have in the United States, while sharply criticizing Iran's government for persecuting its own citizens.
The State and Treasury departments said they are taking action against the prosecutor general in Tehran, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, and the commander of Iran's Basij paramilitary force, Mohammed Reza Naqdi, over abuses that occurred in connection to Iran's disputed presidential election in 2009.
The decision means that the two men will be denied access to any bank accounts or property they might have in U.S. financial institutions. U.S. businesses are prohibited from doing business with them.
"The steady deterioration in human rights conditions in Iran has obliged the international community to speak out time and again," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "Today, the United States sanctions two Iranian officials ... for perpetrating these abuses. The world will continue to watch and will hold accountable those responsible for these actions."
In a statement, Clinton also lambasted what she termed a deteriorating human rights condition in Iran, criticizing the country's security forces for beating and detaining demonstrators over the last 10 days. She said at least 3 peaceful protesters have been killed.
Clinton said the U.S. was deeply concerned even as it applauded the bravery of the Iranians who've taken to the streets. While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government has welcomed protests in the Middle East, Clinton said it was "clear to the world that Iran denies its citizens the same fundamental rights it continues to applaud elsewhere."
"Off the streets, the regime's leaders have targeted human rights defenders and political activists, and authorities have recently rounded-up ex-government officials and their families," Clinton said.
Former parliamentarians, clerics, student leaders, professors, journalists and bloggers have all suffered under the heavy-handed repression, she said. She also criticized the government for jamming satellite transmissions and blocking Internet sites.
White House press secretary Jay Carney also voiced the administration's displeasure with Iran. Iranians "should be able to express their opinions and their grievances without fear of reprisal from their government," he said.
The Treasury Department, in a statement, said that Dolatabadi was appointed Tehran's prosecutor general in August 2009 and since that time his office has indicted a large number of protesters. They include individuals who took part in the December 2009 Ashura Day protests, which saw large-scale clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
Treasury said that Dolatabadi's office had charged protesters with Muharebeh, or enmity against God, which carries a death sentence. The department said that the prosecutor's office had arrested reformists, human rights activists and members of the media as part of a broad crackdown on the political opposition.
Naqdi, as commander of Iran's paramilitary force, was responsible for or complicit in the violent response to the December 2009 protests, Treasury said. That action resulted in up to 15 deaths and the arrests of hundreds of protesters, the department said.
Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for human rights, said Wednesday's action against the two government officials "underscores our enduring commitment to support Iranians seeking to exercise their universal rights and expresses our solidarity with victims of torture, persecution and arbitrary detention." ___
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.