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IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salami. Photo: Sepahnews/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The European Union imposed sanctions Monday against eight Iranian militia commanders and security officials, including the commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), over their role in a deadly crackdown on protests in 2019.

Why it matters: It's the first time the EU has sanctioned Iran for human rights abuses since 2013, and comes as the bloc looks to facilitate a U.S. return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Background: Iran was shaken toward the end of 2019 by its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, after protesters took to the streets across the country in response to an abrupt increase in gasoline prices.

  • The Iranian government imposed an internet blackout and cracked down with brutal force, arbitrarily detaining thousands of protesters and killing more than 300, according to Amnesty International.
  • Iranian officials told Reuters at the time that the death toll may have been as high as 1,500, after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei ordered his top security officials to "do whatever it takes" to quell the unrest.

The big picture: The Iran sanctions, which also target three prisons where detainees have reportedly endured torture and inhumane conditions, are part of a newly enacted EU framework that imposes travel bans and asset freezes on human rights violators.

  • So far this year, the EU has also rolled out sanctions targeting human rights violations in Xinjiang, North Korea, Libya, Russia, South Sudan and Eritrea.

Go deeper

Apr 11, 2021 - World

Defense Sec. Austin stresses U.S. commitment to Israel's security amid growing Iran tensions

Issei Kato/Reuters/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived for his first visit in Jerusalem amid nuclear talks in Vienna and growing tensions between Israel and Iran.

Why it matters: Austin met his counterpart Benny Gantz and will meet later with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss Iran and regional security issues.

Apr 11, 2021 - World

Iran announces blackout at nuclear facility, possible Israeli cyber attack

Iran announced on Sunday a blackout occurred at its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.

Why it matters: The incident occurred as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived for his first visit in Jerusalem amid nuclear talks in Vienna and growing tensions between Israel and Iran.

Retail sales flat in April after huge surge in March

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

April retail sales in the U.S. were unchanged from March, which saw a surge revised up to 10.7%, according to the latest Commerce Department report published Friday.

Why it matters: The U.S. has been entering a period of growing optimism in the wake of the vaccine rollout, falling new COVID-19 cases and deaths, and a slowly recovering labor market. Retail sales were up 51% year-over-year compared to April 2020.