U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new sanctions and visa restrictions on Iran Thursday in what he billed as an attempt to defend human rights in the country.
The new measures are targeted against two Iranian judges -- Mohammad Moghisseh and Abolghassem Salavati -- accused by Washington of imposing an unjust sentence on a human rights lawyer and a since-freed American citizen the U.S. said was being held as a political prisoner.
Pompeo alleged that Salavati "has sentenced hundreds of political prisoners," some to death, and is the "go-to guy" of the Iranian government.
"He’s a tool of the regime’s oppression, not an impartial friend of justice. And today he’s now sanctioned by the United States of America," the top diplomat said to applause at the State Department.
Additional visa restrictions are being placed on current and former Iranian officials and individuals the U.S. considers to be responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses against demonstrators in the country, or who take actions that inhibit their rights.
Their family members will also be affected, he said.
"The materials that are being provided to us by citizens from all across Iran will be invaluable in us using this new authority to put true pressure and to hold accountable those who are denying freedom and justice to the people of Iran," Pompeo said. "Thugs killing people’s children will not be allowed to send their own children to study in the United States of America."
Amnesty International estimated at least 208 people were killed in Iran since protests broke out last month over the government’s decision to raise fuel prices.
Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, called the death toll a "shocking" representation of the Iranian government's "shameful disregard for human life."
Demonstrations broke out across Iran on Nov. 15 after the government imposed petrol rationing and raised fuel prices by at least 50%.
At least 100 banks and dozens of shops have been set ablaze during the protests, the semi-official Mehr news agency said, quoting security officials.
Although there are no official figures, Fars news agency said more than 1,000 protesters have been arrested.
By Michael Hernandez in Washington