US imposes sanctions, visa restrictions on 37 people in 13 countries

International Desk Published: 9 December 2023, 01:01 PM | Updated: 9 December 2023, 01:02 PM
US imposes sanctions, visa restrictions on 37 people in 13 countries
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with human rights leaders at the State Department in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

The United States on Friday slapped sanctions on dozens of people over human rights abuses, including Iranian officers it accused of being involved in the targeting of U.S. officials, ahead of Human Rights Day on Sunday.

The U.S. Treasury and State Departments imposed sanctions and visa restrictions on 37 people in 13 countries, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, in actions coordinated with Britain and Canada.

Over the last year the Treasury has sanctioned more than 150 individuals and entities across a dozen countries, freezing their U.S. assets, for issues relating to human rights abuse. Americans who engage in certain transactions with them also risk being hit with sanctions.

Two Iranian intelligence officers who recruited people for U.S. operations are listed, the Treasury Department said in a statement. Their mission included the lethal targeting of current and former U.S. government officials as revenge for the 2020 killing of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani.

The officers, Majid Dastjani Farahani and Mohammad Mahdi Khanpour Ardestani, also recruited people for surveillance activities focused on religious sites, businesses and other facilities in the United States, Treasury added.

Iran promised vengeance after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad killed Soleimani, Tehran's most prominent military commander and the architect of its growing influence in the Middle East.

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

Taliban members were sanctioned for their links to the repression of women and girls. These include the minister for the so-called Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice that the Treasury said has engaged in killings, abductions, whippings and beatings.

The Taliban administration spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two mid-level Chinese officials were cited for their connection to "ongoing serious human rights abuse in Xinjiang," the western Chinese region where the U.S. says authorities are committing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups.

The officials are Gao Qi, a Xinjiang public security official; and Hu Lianhe, the deputy office director for the Xinjiang Work Coordination Small Group of the Central Committee, which helped design policies for what Washington calls internment camps in the region.

Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said the sanctions were illegal.

"Such acts grossly interfere in China's internal affairs, flagrantly violate the basic norms governing international relations and seriously undermine China-US relations. China firmly opposes and strongly condemns them," he said.

The United States on Friday also restricted imports from three more Chinese companies, including COFCO Sugar Holding, over forced labor practices involving Uyghurs and other minorities in China, the U.S. government said on Friday.

Some Republican lawmakers complained the China sanctions failed to target senior officials, including the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief in Xinjiang, Ma Xingrui.

"Secretary Blinken must explain why the top CCP official in Xinjiang - who implements (Chinese President) Xi Jinping's genocide - does not meet the criteria for U.S. sanctions," said Mike Gallagher, chair of the House of Representative's select committee on China, and Senator Marco Rubio in a statement.


"Our commitment to upholding and defending human rights is sacrosanct," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the statement.

"Treasury's targeted sanctions announced today and over the past year underscore the seriousness of our commitment to promoting accountability for human rights abuse and safeguarding the U.S. financial system from those who commit these egregious acts."

Also sanctioned are leaders of the Islamic State in Democratic Republic of Congo, the heads of four criminal gangs in Haiti, and the Commissioner General of the Uganda Prisons Service, which Treasury said has engaged in torture and others serious human rights abuse including of LGBTQ community members.

Uganda enacted one of the world's harshest anti-gay laws in May, which calls for the death penalty for certain same-sex acts.

Washington also targeted people in Liberia, South Sudan, Uganda and Central African Republic.