IRGC forces stand in a street in Tehran, Iran. REUTERS./

By Daphne Psaledakis

 – The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on seven Iranian officials over the shutdown of internet access and the crackdown on peaceful protesters following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police.

The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement said it imposed sanctions on Iran‘s minister of interior, Ahmad Vahidi; Communications Minister Eisa Zarepour; and Vahid Mohammad Naser Majid, the head of the Iranian Cyber Police, among others.

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“The United States condemns the Iranian government’s Internet shutdown and continued violent suppression of peaceful protest and will not hesitate to target those who direct and support such actions,” Brian Nelson, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the statement.

Iran‘s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States also targeted Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officials Hossein Nejat, a commander it said heads the security apparatus based in Tehran charged with quelling anti-government protests, and Yadollah Javani, the deputy political commander of the IRGC.

Officials with Iran‘s law enforcement forces were also designated in the action. The Treasury imposed sanctions on Deputy Operations Commander Hossein Sajedinia and the forces’ police chief in Tehran, Hossein Rahimi, whom Washington accused of overseeing much of the morality police’s hijab compliance enforcement in the city.

Thursday’s action freezes any U.S. assets of those designated and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. Those that engage in certain transactions with them also risk being hit with sanctions.

The nationwide unrest sparked by Amini’s death has spiraled into the biggest challenge to Iran‘s clerical leaders in years, with protesters calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic founded in 1979.

Rights groups say thousands have been arrested and hundreds injured in the crackdown waged by security forces including the Basij, a volunteer militia affiliated with Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards. Rights groups put the death toll at over 150.

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The United States last month imposed sanctions on Iran‘s morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit responsible for the death of Amini, an Iranian Kurd who died after being detained in Tehran on Sept. 13 for “inappropriate attire.”

Authorities have reported numerous deaths among the security forces, accusing foreign adversaries, including the United States, of meddling to destabilize Iran.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Tim Ahmann; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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