WASHINGTON     -     Amid high tensions between Washington and Tehran, the US State Department has called on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to suspend the accounts of Iranian government leaders until Tehran re-establishes internet coverage throughout the riot-torn country. “It is a deeply hypocritical regime,” Brian Hook, special US representative for Iran, said in an interview.

The government imposed a near-total Internet blackout more than a week ago amid violent protests.

“It shuts down the internet while its government continues to use all of these social media accounts. So one of the things that we are calling on are social media companies like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter to shut down the accounts of Supreme Leader Khamenei, the Foreign Minister Zarif and President Rouhani until they restore the internet to their own people,” he said.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, the United States imposed sanctions on Iranian communications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi for what it said was his role in the “vast censorship” of the internet.

In a tweet Friday translated into Farsi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invited any Iranian who witnessed government “repression” to send documentation to the US, promising it would sanction any abuses.

Iran’s economy has primarily been battered since the country has been locked in a standoff with the United States and its Gulf Arab allies since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal that gave it relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

The United States has imposed sanctions on Iran’s sovereign wealth fund, whose board of trustees includes President Hassan Rouhani, as well as Etemad Tejarate Pars, a company that the Treasury Department said had sent money internationally on behalf of Iran’s defence ministry.

US JUDGE AWARDS $180M TO

REPORTER HELD BY IRAN

A US federal judge has awarded a Washington Post journalist and his family nearly $180 million in their lawsuit against Iran over his 544 days in captivity and torture while being held on internationally criticised espionage charges.

The order in the case filed by Jason Rezaian came as Iranian officials appeared to begin restoring the internet after a weeklong shutdown amid a security crackdown on protesters angered by government-set gasoline prices sharply rising. The US government has sanctioned Iran’s telecommunications minister in response to the internet shutdown.

US District Judge Richard J. Leon in Washington entered the judgment late Friday in Rezaian’s case, describing how authorities in Iran denied the journalist sleep, medical care and abused him during his imprisonment.

“Iran seized Jason, threatened to kill Jason, and did so with the goal of compelling the United States to free Iranian prisoners as a condition of Jason’s release,” Leon said in his ruling.

The judge later added: “Holding a man hostage and torturing him to gain leverage in negotiations with the United States is outrageous, deserving of punishment and surely in need of deterrence.”

Iran never responded to the lawsuit despite it being handed over to the government by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which oversees US interests in the country. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Rezaian and his lawyers did not respond to a request for comment. Martin Baron, the executive editor of the Post, said in a statement that Rezaian’s treatment by Iran was “horrifying.”

“We’ve seen our role as helping the Rezaians through their recovery,” Baron said. “Our satisfaction comes from seeing them enjoy their freedom and a peaceful life.”

Rezaian’s case, which began with his 2014 gunpoint arrest alongside his wife Yeganeh Salehi, showed how the Islamic Republic can grab those with Western ties to use in negotiations. It’s a practice recounted by human rights groups, UN investigators and the families of those detained. Despite being an accredited journalist for the Post with permission to live and work in Iran, Rezaian was taken to Tehran’s Evin prison and later convicted in a closed trial before a Revolutionary Court on still-unexplained espionage charges.