The U.S. on Wednesday sanctioned six senior officials with Iran’s state-run media corporation over their role in broadcasting hundreds of forced confessions of Iranians whose relatives died in government custody.
U.S. officials claim the group aired interviews in which relatives claim their family members had not been killed by Iranian authorities during protests over the last several years but rather had died of accidental, unrelated causes.
“The Iranian government’s systemic reliance on forced confessions illustrates the government’s refusal to speak truth to its citizens and the international community,” Brian Nelson, the Treasury Department’s terrorism and financial intelligence chief, said in a statement.
He said the U.S. “will continue to hold Iranian officials and government institutions accountable for their human rights violations and their censorship of the Iranian people.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting had been blacklisted as an organization in 2013. The latest Treasury action targeted six officials by name, describing two of them, Ali Rezvani and Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, as “interrogator journalists” who had extracted and aired forced confessions in the style of news documentaries.
Treasury alleged that the state media agency’s broadcasts “regularly make false and baseless accusations against Iranian citizens, dual nationals, and foreigners, and use falsified news to misinform and falsely incriminate perceived enemies of the regime.”
Dozens of Iranians have been killed in the last two months in protests stemming from the September death of Mahsa Amini, 22, held by Iranian authorities who claimed she was improperly wearing her hijab head scarf. But Tuesday’s sanctions were related to alleged confessions that predated the recent protests.
The new sanctions come as Iran’s independent media are under increased pressure both inside and outside the country. Since protests broke out in September, more than 60 journalists have been detained.
The most recent journalist to be arrested was Kianoosh Sanjari, a freelance reporter who was detained November 13 after a hearing inside Evin prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is tracking media arrests in Iran.
Sanjari, who between 2010 and 2015 contributed to VOA’s Persian Service, had been covering protests via social media.
Around 25 of the journalists who have been arrested for their protest coverage are women, according to the Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ).
The arrests and harassment of media over protest coverage is "unprecedented" and "we see women to be one of the primary targets," Kiran Nazish, founding director of CFWIJ, told VOA recently.
Earlier this month, police in London informed two British Iranian journalists working for Volant Media of "credible threats to their lives" and those of their families, the station reported.
Volant Media is a London-based Farsi-language channel that has been covering the anti-government protests.
The broadcaster said the threats against its journalists were a "dangerous escalation" of attempts to suppress independent media.
The Treasury action blocks the six Iranian officials from any transactions involving their U.S. financial holdings and property, although Treasury did not say whether they had any financial interests in the U.S.