Tehran on Wednesday blacklisted several British institutions and individuals after London sanctioned Iran’s morality police amid protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, a foreign ministry statement said.
Among the seven institutions listed are Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre and the Government Communications Headquarters intelligence organization, known as GCHQ.
Tehran said their actions have “led to riots, violence and terrorist acts against the Iranian nation.”
Iran has been rocked by protests since the 22-year-old died on September 16, three days after she was arrested by morality police in Tehran for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women.
The street violence has led to dozens of deaths, mostly among protesters but also among the security forces, and hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested.
The 16 organizations and people were blacklisted for “their deliberate actions in supporting terrorism and terrorist groups, promoting and inciting terrorism, spreading violence and hatred, and violating human rights,” Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
BBC Persian and Iran International, two Persian-speaking channels based in the U.K. and considered “hostile” by the Islamic republic, were also blacklisted.
The nine individuals listed include Conservative Members of Parliament Thomas Tugendhat, who is also minister of state for security, and Bob Blackman.
Sanctions include a visa ban as well as the seizure of any “property and assets” in Iran.
The United States, Britain and Canada have already announced sanctions against Iran over rights violations.
London targeted the “morality police” and security officials on October 10.
The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on 11 Iranian individuals and four entities for the way they dealt with the monthlong demonstrations.
US Says ‘World Will be Watching’ Iran Treatment of Unveiled Climber
The United States on Wednesday criticized the Iranian government’s treatment of climber Elnaz Rekabi, who competed abroad without a headscarf, and warned that the world was watching.
“The Iranian regime and its leaders have a long history of abusing the rights of women and violating their freedom of expression, including through threats, through intimidation and violence,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters in Washington.
“Reports of intimidation and threats to Elnaz Rekabi appear to be the latest inexcusable example of such tactics. The world and the Iranian people will be watching how she is treated,” he said.
Rekabi competed in South Korea without wearing a headscarf, which is mandatory in the clerical state and a target of nationwide protests after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the notorious “morality police.”
Rekabi was whisked back to Iran and, in an Instagram post and comments at the airport, apologized and said her headscarf had slipped off accidentally.
Activists fear her comments were made under duress and dozens of supporters gathered outside the airport to cheer her on, with some chanting, “Elnaz is a hero.”
Telecommunications Minister Says Iran to Criminalize Sale of VPNs
Iran is planning to criminalize the sale of virtual private networks (VPNs) used to skirt internet restrictions, a minister said on Wednesday, amid protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death.
The Islamic republic has imposed drastic restrictions on internet access as it grapples with demonstrations that flared over the death of the 22-year-old after her arrest for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women.
“Selling anti-filtering tools is unauthorized, but unfortunately it has not been criminalized. Efforts are being made to criminalize this issue,” Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour said.
“It is not in the field of my duties and naturally relevant institutions should follow this up,” he said on state television after a Cabinet meeting in Tehran.
Iranian media outlets reported last year that lawmakers were working on a draft bill that could further restrict internet access.
The bill calls for “organizing social media” and the banning of VPN software used widely to bypass internet restrictions and blocks imposed on social media platforms, the Etemad newspaper wrote in June 2021.
The text also calls for jail terms for anyone found guilty of violating the terms of the bill if it becomes law, according to the reformist daily.
Internet users had expressed concern over the draft bill proposed by some conservative lawmakers, who have had a parliamentary majority since 2020.
The recently imposed restrictions include blocking access to Instagram and WhatsApp – until now the last remaining unfiltered social media services, in addition to clamping down on apps like the Google Play Store, as well as VPNs.
Zarepour cautioned Iranians against using anti-filtering software as they risk causing “vulnerabilities” on the devices.
“The use of the so-called anti-filtering tools or VPNs for devices such as laptops, computers and mobile phones will definitely lead to serious vulnerabilities because it facilitates hackers’ access,” he said.
“As an expert, I recommend the dear people not to use these tools as much as possible,” he added.
Zarepour was slapped with sanctions for overseeing internet curbs by the European Union on Monday in a foreign ministerial meeting in Luxembourg.