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Russian and Iranian entities hit with sanctions by United States for detaining Americans

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On Thursday, the United States announced the imposition of sanctions on the Russian and Iranian security and intelligence services, accusing them of being responsible or complicit in the illegal detention of Americans abroad.

The move against Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and intelligence affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) marks the first implementation of new sanctions powers that President Joe Biden created last year for use against those who unfairly detain Americans.

However, the sanctions are largely symbolic, with both organizations already subject to sweeping sanctions for a range of malign behavior — from interfering in elections and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to supporting terrorist activity.

Senior administration officials declined to say which arrests specifically supported the sanctions, saying they were in response to a pattern of actions by countries in unjustly detaining Americans both now and in the past.

A press release from the US Treasury Department stated that Iranian authorities frequently detain and interrogate detainees in Tehran’s Evin prison and have “a direct role in suppressing protests and arresting dissidents, including dual nationals.”

Senior administration officials noted Thursday’s work was in the works ahead of last month’s arrest in Russia of Wall Street Journal reporter Ivan Gershkovitch, whose prompt imprisonment the US government deemed unfair. He joins American Paul Whelan in this ranking in Russia.

In addition to targeting the two organizations, the administration is also adding additional sanctions to four IRGC commanders it claims were involved in the hostage-taking effort.

Nelson, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said the United States is “committed to repatriating unjustly detained American nationals and acting against external threats to the safety of American nationals abroad.”

Senior administration officials said the sanctions relief could be used as a catalyst in negotiations to try to secure the release of Americans held abroad.

Biden last year issued an executive order drawing on a section of the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage Accountability Act — named after a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran 15 years ago and is now presumed dead — that authorizes the president to impose sanctions, including canceling Visas, for people believed to be involved in the wrongful detention of Americans.

The announcement comes ahead of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation’s annual dinner next week, an event expected to include guests of several former hostages and detainees as well as advocates for this demographic.

In addition, a candlelight vigil is scheduled for next week, and a press conference is scheduled outside the White House to raise the plight of the detainees.

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