President Obama has only issued sanctions against a few Iranian officials and entities for human rights abuses since the start of nuclear talks with Tehran, despite his assurances that he would continue to apply pressure, according to the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In a letter to the White House Monday, Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) urged Obama to impose economic penalties on senior Iranian officials who have violated the human rights of their own citizens. Under Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, perceived as a more moderate leader by some analysts, the Islamic regime in Tehran has continued to jail or execute hundreds of political prisoners, Royce said.
Obama has failed to punish repressive Iranian officials since the United States began negotiation with Iran and other world powers to limit Tehran’s nuclear program, Royce said. The final deal, completed in July, placed modest restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program but could grant Tehran as much as $150 billion in sanctions relief—a windfall that critics say could help boost the funding of Iranian terrorist proxies.
"Since September 2013—roughly the start of the nuclear negotiations—your Administration has designated only one Iranian official and two other entities for human rights violations," Royce said in the letter.
"U.S. law is clear," he wrote. "If an Iranian government official is ‘responsible for or complicit in, or responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, the commission of serious human rights abuses against citizens of Iran,’ they should be sanctioned—their assets blocked, bank accounts frozen, and travel to the U.S. prohibited. I urge you to make the designations necessary to apply these sanctions."
Additionally, Royce said "human rights abuse has been a consistent policy of the Iranian regime since it took control" in the Islamic revolution of 1979.
"For example, Iran’s current Justice Minister is widely accused of playing a key role in the continuing suppression of dissidents today, as well as the mass executions of the late 1980s," he said.
In an August speech on the Iran nuclear deal, Obama said that, "we will continue to have sanctions in place on Iran’s support for terrorism and violation of human rights." Royce’s letter raises questions as to whether the Obama administration will sustain pressure on Iran.
The State Department said last year in its annual human rights report that Iranian "authorities arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed" prisoners, including nearly 1,000 reported executions in the last two years and the use of gruesome torture methods such as amputation, electric shock, flogging, and burning.
While Iran persecutes its own citizens, Royce said that Tehran also continues to hold four Americans, including U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini.
"Amir Hekmati was visiting his grandmother when he was arrested while Pastor Abedini was sharing his Christian faith," he said. "Like thousands of Iranians over the past three-and-a-half decades, they were taken from family and friends and convicted of vague charges without due process, often in closed trials."
Secretary of State John Kerry raised concerns about American prisoners with his Iranian counterpart Saturday at the United Nations, but it remains unclear if or when they will be released.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment by press time.