President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions last Monday on the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as everyone in his office or appointed by him.
"The Supreme Leader of Iran is the one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime," the President told reporters, adding, "These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran's increasingly provocative actions."
Many commentators and analysts immediately dismissed the move as a "political show-off", and argued, since Khamenei has no personal assets, does not travel to the U.S.A., and the commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) appointed by him are already under Washington’s sanctions, the new move does not go further than a "symbolic gesture."
Sanctioning the Supreme Leader, if considered from a legal standpoint, is not only far from being a symbolic gesture, it actually targets an army of individuals appointed by Khamenei. These individuals, despite their notoriety, play a pivotal role in suppressing people and shaping Iran's policies.
Let us have a look at the most notorious figures that will suffer from these sanctions.
Ebrahim Raeesi, a 58-year-old mid-ranking cleric who was recently appointed by Khamenei as the head of the judiciary, is among those who will be affected from President Trump's decision.
Raeesi, who carries the title of Sayyid (wearing a black turban, to show himself as a descendant of Prophet Muhammad), is one of the infamous figures in Iran accused of crimes against humanity.
He was a member of the so-called "Death Quartet" that ordered the death penalty for thousands of prisoners in late 1980s, while they were doing time behind bars in the notorious Gohardasht and Evin prisons.
Another figure appointed by Khamenei is Hossein Shariatmadari, 71, known for his antisemitic and anti-American views, referring to Jews and Americans as "germs."
A member of the IRGC, Shariatmadari has been the managing editor of the daily Kayhan for almost three decades. He serves under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader and runs Kayhan as the mouthpiece of the conservatives as well as other hardline allies of Khamenei.
On April 17, 2012 Shariatmadari published an editorial in which he stressed Iran's right to enrich uranium to 99%.
Meanwhile, Shariatmadari is responsible for framing dissident journalists, writers, essayists, poets, artists, civil and political rights activists, through publishing vitriolic reports against them. Many of these dissidents have suffered imprisonment, torture, and even fallen victim to murder.
The chairman of the powerful Guardian Council (GC), Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and other clergymen who are members of the council are also on sanctions as Khamenei appointees.
Though a mid-ranking cleric by Shi'ites' standards, 92-year-old Jannati, as the chairman of the GC, plays a crucial role in disqualifying hundreds of candidates seeking the presidency or seats in Majles (Iranian parliament) or the Assembly of Experts, a body responsible for selecting the Islamic Republic's future Supreme Leader.
However, few people are aware of his prominent role in the bloodstained "cultural revolution" in the University of Jundishapur, in the capital city of Ahvaz, in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, southwest Iran.
During the so-called "cultural revolution" right after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, Jannati was the Friday Prayer Imam (leader) in Ahvaz. Under his command, the revolutionary Islamists arrested, battered, and even murdered numerous students on Jundishapur campus.
All members of the Supreme Cyberspace Council who are responsible for denying Iranians access to free flow of information. Many former officials who were in charge of suppressing political dissidents during the first decade after the revolution are affected by these sanctions.
The commander of Police forces, IRGC General Hossein Ashtari who brutally crushed widespread anti-regime rallies in late December 2017, early January 2018, is also among those who are indirectly sanctioned.
Before President Trump's decision, and in the absence of international restrictions, all these individuals used to amass ill-gotten wealth daily, and freely travel around the globe. The sanction imposed on Khamenei might not end the lavish lives of his appointees overnight, but in the long run, it will definitely restrict their impunity, forcing them to grapple with a myriad of demons unknown to them so far.
Sanctioning the head of a foreign country is not unprecedented for the U.S. Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro were also sanctioned as a signal that the days of the illegitimate rule of a head of state is over.