The Obama administration has not designated a single Iranian as a human rights abuser since finalizing last summer’s comprehensive nuclear agreement, despite rising abuse in the Islamic Republic, including state-sanctioned killings and the imprisonment of opposition figures.
The administration’s hesitance to use sanctions as a tool to confront Iranian human rights abuses, despite past promises made to Congress, has prompted outrage on Capitol Hill among lawmakers who were given assurances the administration would act.
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A senior administration official admitted during questioning on Capitol Hill Wednesday that the U.S. has not sanctioned a single Iranian human rights abuser since the deal was finalized. The disclosure calls into question further administration promises to continue using sanctions as a tool to pressure Iran.
The White House is pressuring Congress not to pass new Iran sanctions as the old measures near expiration later this year.
Republicans and Democrats alike are now accusing the administration of misleading Congress about its commitment to sanctions and saying that it has avoided such designations in order to prevent the Iranian regime from walking away from the deal.
"We were told during this process that getting the nuclear issue off the table was so critical and we could actually expect Iran to engage in additional destabilizing activity," Rep. David Cicilline (D., R.I.) said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee examining the administration’s promises regarding Iran.
"We were assured that this would give us an opportunity to push back hard in these other areas because the danger of a nuclear Iran would be off the table, and I was very persuaded by that," said Cicilline, a supporter of the nuclear agreement.
Cicilline asked Ambassador Stephen Mull, the administration’s lead coordinator for implementing the nuclear deal, what the administration has "done since the signing of the [nuclear deal] with regard to imposing sanctions on human rights violators in Iran." Mull admitted that the U.S. has not taken any action.
"There has not been a specific sanction on human rights cases since the signing" of the deal, Mull said.
Cicilline questioned why, since the administration promised to take action, it had not done so in the face of rising human rights abuses by Iran.
Mull emphasized that the administration is concerned about human rights in Iran and has raised the issue in meetings with regime officials.
Insiders who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon warned that the administration will block all Congressional attempts to impose new sanctions on Iran out of fear that the Islamic Republic will abandon the deal.
"Congress wants to impose new pressure against Iranian human rights violations, but the Obama administration keeps blocking new action. The administration's excuse is they already have all the tools they need," said one source who works closely with Congress on the Iran issue. "What today's admission shows is that they might have those tools, but they're certainly not using them."
Human rights groups continue to observe gross human rights violations in Iran, despite the election of President Hassan Rouhani, who was touted as a moderate reformer.
"Although Iran elected a moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani, to be president in 2013, the country has seen no significant improvements in human rights," the advocacy organization Human Rights Watch wrote in its latest report on Iran.
"Repressive elements within the security and intelligence forces, as well as the judiciary, retained wide powers and continued to be the main perpetrators of rights abuses," according to the group. "Executions, especially for drug-related offenses, increased sharply from previous years. Security and intelligence forces arrested journalists, bloggers, and social media activists, and revolutionary courts handed down heavy sentences against them."
Amnesty International, another human rights observer, also warned of rising executions and oppression in Iran.
"The authorities severely curtailed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, arresting and imprisoning journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and others who voiced dissent on vague and overly broad charges," Amnesty wrote in its 2015-2016 assessment of Iran.
"Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common and was committed with impunity; prison conditions were harsh," according to the group. "Unfair trials continued, in some cases resulting in death sentences. Women and members of ethnic and religious minorities faced pervasive discrimination in law and in practice. The authorities carried out cruel punishments, including blinding, amputation, and floggings. Courts imposed death sentences for a range of crimes; many prisoners, including at least four juvenile offenders, were executed."