FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC – NIAC applauds the Obama Administration’s anticipated decision to lift sanctions on consumer communication tools for the Iranian people tomorrow. This long sought action will help ensure sanctions do not block important consumer communication hardware, software, and services for ordinary Iranians. NIAC commends the organizations and individuals in the Iranian-American community who worked tirelessly on this issue over the past four years.
“Lifting these sanctions is an extremely positive step,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. “There was no better example of sanctions that undermined human rights and civil society efforts of Iranians, and helped the regime.”
Sanctions on communications tools in Iran have been in place since before social media, text messaging, and cell phones were an everyday part of life. They have prevented companies from selling laptops, cell phones, or modems to Iran, which has fueled a major black market for these goods. They have blocked services like satellite Internet, website hosting, and VPNs for Iranians. And the sanctions even made it illegal for Iranians to download basic software and security updates, which left many vulnerable to malware and cyber intrusions by the government.
“Iranians have been squeezed between a repressive government on one side and crippling sanctions on the other,” said Abdi. “Now the U.S. is taking steps to ensure that, as Iran’s government cracks down on Internet access and SMS, sanctions will no longer block cell phones, software, and hardware.”
The sanctions were felt most acutely four years ago, at the height of Iran’s green movement protests. The world was galvanized by cell phone videos and reports of abuses coming from inside of Iran, and SMS and other communications tools were being used to help organize massive demonstrations. Yet all of those tools were under U.S. sanctions. Some limited actions were taken by the Obama Administration to ease sanctions on basic, freely available software, and to license other tools in 2010. But until now, most of these items have been largely blocked.
In recent years, as sanctions ratcheted up, the enforcement of these restrictions became even more severe. In 2012, there were several reports of Apple Stores discriminating against Iranian Americans by blocking them from buying iPhones or iPads. Apple employees claimed to have done so because, under the sanctions, it was illegal for anybody to travel with or send cellphones or laptops to Iran. Recently, companies like Samsung started blocking Iranians from accessing their mobile app stores. And even online games like World of Warcraft and online dating sites were cut off for users with Iranian IP addresses because of sanctions.
“At a time when broad sanctions are causing many Iranians to seriously question whether the U.S. is aiming at them or their government, this is a very important gesture,” said Abdi. “Steps like this can go a long way to demonstrate that we stand with the Iranian people.”
“This also shows that sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians can be lifted if we press policymakers and work with them to find solutions,” Abdi said. “Serious issues remain to be addressed, including sanctions that are preventing medicine from reaching ordinary Iranians, and we look forward to progress on this front.”
NIAC has been working with the Obama Administration and Congress to lift the communications sanctions since 2009, when they supported the Iran Digital Empowerment Act that was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA). NIAC strongly supported the Obama Administration’s issuance of a waiver for limited personal communications software in 2010 and continued to push the Administration to lift restrictions on these items in 2011. NIAC supported the Obama Administration’s issuance of a favorable license policy for other communications tools in 2012 and worked with other organizations to press private tech companies to stop over-enforcing sanctions on certain software. NIAC helped highlight cases of discrimination at Apple Stores against Iranian Americans and published an op-ed in the New York Times on the issue in 2012.
NIAC wishes to express its gratitude to the U.S. government and partner organizations on this issue including International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, United For Iran, Human Rights Watch, Center for Democracy & Technology, Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Open Technology Institute.
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage. NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.
For more information, please visit niacouncil.org.