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EU sanctions Iranian Revolution Guard members, mulls terror listing

Published January 23,2023

The European Union sanctioned multiple people and entities linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) over human rights violations while debating a decision to add the group to the bloc's terror list at a foreign ministers' meeting on Monday.

The EU "will continue supporting the rights of Iranians in defence of their fundamental human rights," the bloc's top diplomat Josep Borrell said after the meeting in Brussels.

Tehran has cracked down on demonstrations, including carrying out recent executions of protesters, triggered by the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in police custody after her arrest for allegedly violating strict Islamic dress codes.

Entering into force on Monday, the new punitive measures target Abbas Nilfrushan, a deputy commander in the IRGC, and the leader of a unit charged with quelling the protests.

Ravin Academy, a cybersecurity firm linked to the IRGC and Iran's Ministry of Intelligence, was also included for its role in recruiting hackers to disrupt protesters' communications.

The Iranian Minister of Sport and Youth, Hamid Sajjadi, was targeted for his role in punishing Iranian athletes that spoke out against repression in Iran.

The EU said Sajjadi was personally involved in the regime's punishment of Elnaz Rekabi, an Iranian athlete climber who last year competed in South Korea without a hijab as required under Iran's Islamic dress code.

According to the EU, Sajjadi was coerced into apologizing and her family home was reportedly demolished in December.

In total 37 targets - 18 individuals and 19 entities - were hit with an EU asset freeze and travel ban. It is the fourth round of EU sanctions since the protests began in September.

Altogether, 164 individuals and 31 entities linked to human rights violations in Iran have now been targeted.

Ahead of the meeting, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock again urged the EU to place the IRGC on the bloc's terror list.

Continued "brutal actions" in Iran mean the EU has "to discuss the legal options" to list the IRGC as a terrorist organization, Baerbock said.

Last week the European Parliament also called for the group's inclusion in a vote.

However the move is legally challenging. The bloc first needs a ruling from a court in an EU member state that designates the IRGC as a terrorist organization, Borrell said.

There "has to be first a condemnation [by] a court in one member state," Borrell said. Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's foreign minister, said this is necessary to be "absolutely watertight" legally.

Placing the IRGC on the bloc's terrorism list could be challenged in the EU's court systems.

The IRGC are Iran's elite armed forces. Established after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the unit is supposed to prevent a coup and protect state ideology.

It has come under increasing criticism for its involvement in harshly suppressing recent unrest in Iran on behalf of the government.

"Repression continues in Iran. The rights of Iranian men and women to demonstrate peacefully are not recognized, abuses continue," French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said.

The Tehran regime is "on a collision course with its own people" and is trying to "crush this civil society movement with all brutality," Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said.

The 27 EU foreign ministers also discussed the ongoing war in Ukraine and signed off another tranche of EU military aid for the country worth €500 million ($541 million).

So far the EU has collectively provided €3.6 billion to Ukraine in military aid. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke to the EU foreign ministers via video call.

EU foreign ministers also greenlighted a new EU observer mission for the border region of Armenia. A statement said the mission is to "contribute to stability in the border areas" with Azerbaijan.

Around 100 personnel are to take part in the civilian mission, Borrell said. Germany will contribute a large contingent, EU diplomats said.

EU foreign ministers also discussed the security situation in the Sahel in North Africa, the bloc's approach to Venezuela after recent elections in Brazil and Colombia and the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.