US Imposes Sanctions on Iranian Information Minister over Internet Shutdown
The United States has imposed sanctions on Iran’s information minister amid a week-long nationwide shutdown of the Internet. “Iran’s leaders know that a free and open Internet exposes their illegitimacy, so they seek to censor… access to quell anti-regime protests,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in reference to ongoing mass demonstrations throughout the Islamic Republic. Mnuchin noted that Tehran had clamped down on “popular messaging applications that help tens of millions of Iranians stay connected to each other,” the apps playing an instrumental role in allowing protesters to organize. The civil unrest began earlier this month when the government announced an end to gasoline subsidies and a hike in prices at the pump. It quickly spread to scores of cities while morphing into calls for the mullahs’ ouster. According to Amnesty International, more than 100 people have been killed in clashes, with some reports suggesting that security forces have gone so far as to steal corpses from morgues in order to hide the extent of the crackdown. Last week, the White House voiced support for the protesters and condemned the Iranian regime’s use of “lethal force.” Tensions remain high between Washington and Tehran over the latter’s recent decision to vastly expand its nuclear program in contravention to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, from which US withdrew 18 month ago. The Trump Administration has also denounced the Islamic Republic’s military and political interventionism in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and has directed the Pentagon to increase troop levels in the Gulf. Nevertheless, the top US army commander in the Middle East over the weekend contended that Iran had not been deterred and that attacks on American assets remained a distinct possibility.