The Trump administration is leveling new economic sanctions against senior Iranian officials and its prison system for widespread human rights abuses, including the systematic torture of those being held in these facilities, according to White House officials familiar with the matter.
The latest sanctions target the Tehran Prisons Organization and Sohrab Suleimani, a senior official in the prison system and the brother of Qassem Soleimani, a senior Iranian military figure responsible for operating Iran's rogue activities in Syria and elsewhere.
Sohrab Soleimani is responsible for overseeing Iran's notorious Evin Prison, which is known for torturous interrogations, forced interrogations, and widespread mistreatment of inmates.
The latest sanctions are certain to rankle Tehran, already the subject of a range of new sanctions under the Trump administration, which is currently conducting a widespread review of all matters related to the landmark nuclear agreement.
A senior official on the White House National Security Council told the Washington Free Beacon that the Soleimani family has a history of fomenting violence and unrest both inside and outside Iran.
"It's no coincidence that Sohrab Suleimani is the brother of the notorious Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC's Quds Forces, who has been responsible for so much of the violent disruption Iran has been spreading through the region," said the official, who was not authorized to speak on record.
Iranian human rights abuses have only grown under the leadership of so-called reformist President Hassan Rouhani, the official said. This includes the detention of U.S. citizens
"There has been a disturbing and significant increase in the number of detentions and executions of Iranian citizens under President Rouhani, and the infamous Evin Prison under Sohrab Suleimani's control has been a key facility in this program of domestic repression," the official said.
The Trump administration is holding meetings with the family members of American citizens still being detained in Iran and believed to be subjected to torture.
"In addition, we have been deeply concerned by the treatment of American citizens in this prison, and in others throughout Iran," the official said. "Just today, senior officials in the Trump administration met with members of the Namazi family representing Siamak Namazi and Baquer Namazi who have been unjustly detained in Iran since October, 2015 and February, 2016, respectively."
"Today's designations highlight our continued support for the Iranian people and demonstrate our commitment to hold the Government of Iran responsible for its continued repression of its own citizens," John E. Smith, director of the Treasury Department's Official of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement. "We will continue to identify, call out, and sanction those who are responsible for serious human rights abuses in Iran."
The sanctions do not conflict with U.S. obligations under the nuclear agreement and are not being leveled as part of that agreement, according to U.S. officials.
The sanctions were formulated following a series of investigations by the U.S. government into Iran's systematic breach of human rights.
"These designations are in response to what we see as pattern of human rights abuses by the Government of Iran and reflect the United States' deep concern regarding the human rights situation in Iran," the State Department explained in a background document provided to reporters.
"We continue to see Government of Iran officials engage in repressive behavior against its own citizens, including through their mistreatment and abuse of prisoners," the document states. "This is especially evident at Evin Prison, which is where numerous prisoners of conscience are held. We have documented these and many other human rights abuses perpetrated by the government of Iran in our annual State Department authored Human Rights, Religious Freedom, and Trafficking in persons reports."
Soleimani's role in Iran's prison system makes him one of the foremost human rights abusers worldwide.
Soleimani oversaw an April 2014 incident at the Evin Prison in which dozens of security guards and prison officials beat a number of political prisoners. The attack is believed to have lasted several hours and impacted more than 30 prisoners. Many of these prisoners were later denied medical treatment.
Evin Prison is home to large number of Iranian political dissidents and other government opponents, who are routinely shut down and arrested by the Iranian regime for political activities targeting those in power.