A Look Into The UK’s Sanctions On Iran’s Morality Police

Lorenzo Capito

On 10th October, the UK government imposed sanctions on senior security and political figures in Iran, as well as the country’s ‘Morality Police’. This decision followed the murder of Iranian citizen Mahsa Amini through police brutality, which sparked protests and outrage across the world. Lorenzo Capito discusses these sanctions for what they are, and the impacts they may have. 

Mahsa Amini was a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by the Iranian morality police for not wearing her hijab properly. She would later die after she was detained. While Iranian officials claimed that Mahsa simply had a heart attack, with the release of a CCTV footage serving as evidence for it, eyewitnesses claim that she was beaten inside a morality police van 

Mahsa’s death triggered a nation-wide protest, calling for an increase in civil rights – especially women’s rights – and justice for Mahsa Amini. The Iranian government reacted harshly to the protests, with reports estimating that at least 201 people have died from governmental crackdowns since the protests began. 

The UK’s reaction may be more like a light slap on the wrist 

It’s with this backdrop that, on the 10th of October, the UK government decided to impose sanctions on Iran’s morality police, along with its chief, Mohammad Rostami Cheshmeh Gachi, and the Head of the Tehran Division, Haj Ahmed Mirzaei. On the surface, while the UK’s response to the protests and the crackdowns might seem like a fitting response, a deeper look into the workings of sanctions shows that the UK’s reaction may be more like a light slap on the wrist. 

Firstly, we need to understand what exactly the British government sanctioned. Economic sanctions are commercial or financial penalties against a state, group or individual, such as travel bans, asset freezing, etc. Essentially, Iran’s morality police’s assets in the UK would be frozen and prominent members of the organisation would be banned from entering the UK.

This presents the first problem: the loopholes that sanctioned individuals, groups and states exploit to enable them to benefit from their assets in states that sanctioned them. 

Shell corporations are one such example. These companies have inactive business operations and lack any significant assets. Because of this, many of these shell companies often get overlooked by financial institutions and thus, many of those sanctioned often use these companies as a quick way of gaining income. In fact, even before the sanctions were imposed on Iran’s morality police, Iran has consistently been able to bypass Western sanctions through the of such companies.

According to a US Department of Treasury, Iran has used shell companies to gain the funds needed to support their ballistic missile developments and aid Syria’s Bashar al-Assad government. 

Correspondent banking is also another tried and tested technique for evading sanctions. This is when a domestic bank is established to provide services, financial institution to another bank, or financial institution in another nation. A corresponding relationship between the two banks then occur if the two agree to create a corresponding account, allowing the domestic bank to make payments or conduct money transfer with the rest of the international world. It’s this technique of tax evasion that has enabled Iran to secure 900 correspondent banks across the world to evade Western sanctions. 

Considering the techniques used to evade sanctions, along with the UK government having to make any announcements of tackling possible loopholes for sanctions the Iranian morality police could take, it’s no surprise that these sanctions would be, from the perspective of the Iranian morality police, nothing more than empty threats from a Western government. 

Nothing more than another Western interventionist move

Then, there’s the issue of the public opinion of those in sanctioned states. While the UK’s sanctions are specifically targeted towards a specific group and individuals, rather than the state as a whole, it may lead many Iranians to see these sanctions as nothing more than another Western interventionist move to keep Iran impoverished and weak.  

Considering that Iran ranks as one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, it’s no surprise that sanctions did play a significant role in destabilising Iran’s economy, ranging from increasing unemployment rates to inflation spikes; all of which have had a significantly negative impact on the average Iranian civilian. It’s no surprise that economic sanctions may rally an entire population against countries that sanctioned Iran.

In fact, a study on the decision by the EU to label products as being “Made in Settlements” in Israeli-controlled West Bank and Golan Heights saw increased support for policies that caused economic sanctions, along with increased hostility towards the states that implemented sanctions. 

As such, Iranians, with the ever-increasing number of Western sanctions being imposed on an Iranian institution, might vent their frustrations away from their own government and towards the West. 

Of course, there’s nothing the UK government can do other than banning of Iranian morality police members and the freezing of their assets. Escalating any further hostile acts towards the country may risk increasing tensions between the UK and Iran, with possible destablising ripple-effects across the region.

After all, the last thing the Middle East and its people wants is another Middle Eastern conflict. Yet, unless the UK government makes effective policies that tackle sanction loopholes, along with somehow convincing the Iranian public who may see the West as the reason for their economic woes after years of sanctions, that the sanctions they imposed won’t affect them, it’s unlikely that the Iranian government would change.  

Lorenzo Capito

Featured image courtesy of Artin Bakhan via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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