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US sanctions four Iranians over alleged plot to kidnap prominent journalist

Treasury Department said the four Iranian intelligence operatives targeted prominent Iranian-American journalist and activist
The US Treasury Department said the operatives were involved in a "wide-ranging campaign to silence critics of the Iranian government".
The US Treasury Department said the operatives were involved in a 'wide-ranging campaign to silence critics of the Iranian government' (AFP/File photo)

The US Treasury Department issued sanctions against four Iranian intelligence operatives on Friday who it alleges targeted a prominent Iranian-American journalist and activist living in the United States.

The department said in a statement that it was sanctioning Iran-based intelligence official Alireza Shahvaroghi Farahani, along with Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi and Omid Noori over a plot to kidnap a "US journalist and human rights activist".

It accused the four individuals of targeting "Iranian dissidents in other countries as part of a wide-ranging campaign to silence critics of the Iranian government".

"The Iranian government's kidnapping plot is another example of its continued attempt to silence critical voices, wherever they may be," Andrea Gack, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

"Targeting dissidents abroad demonstrates that the government's repression extends far beyond Iran’s borders," she added.

While the name of the individual was not given, the journalist in question is likely Masih Alinejad, who works as a presenter for the US government-funded Voice of America Persia and founded the My Stealthy Freedom campaign that calls for women under the Islamic Republic to remove their headscarves, which are mandatory in the country.

In July, US police charged Farahani, Khazein, Sadeghi and Noori over a plot to kidnap the prominent Iranian-American activist.

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At the time, Iran's foreign ministry described the accusation as "ridiculous and baseless".

Alinejad fled Iran in 2009 following the protests over what was seen by many as rigged presidential elections in the country.

She is a staunch opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal and has been against the lifting of sanctions on Iran.

Iran is frequently referred to as one of the most repressive countries in the world towards journalists.

Reporters Without Borders has described Tehran as maintaining "relentless control" over the flow of information in the country, adding that hundreds of journalists have been arrested, imprisoned and executed since the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought the current system to power.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Friday that Washington would "not tolerate efforts to independent journalists or silence their voices".

"Iran's attempt to kidnap a US citizen on US soil because she used her freedom of speech to criticise the Iranian government is unacceptable and an egregious violation of fundamental international norms," Blinken said.

Blinken said the US was aware of "ongoing Iranian interest in targeting other American citizens, including current and former US officials", without going into further detail.