Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council welcomes today’s introduction of H.R. 4303, the Stand with the Iranian People Act, in the House of Representatives, and applauds the bill’s sponsors Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) and William Delahunt (D-MA). As policy makers evaluate how best to resolve the nuclear issue and change the Iranian government’s behavior, it is imperative that the Iranian people not get lost in the debate.
Also introduced today was H.R. 4301, the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act, by Representatives Jim Moran (D-VA), Bill Delahunt (D-MA), and Bob Inglis (R-SC). This vital legislation will ensure that the Iranian people are not denied access to necessary tools for bypassing government spying efforts and communicating with each other and the outside world as they continue to make their voices heard.
“The Stand with the Iranian People Act” (SWIPA)
Due to current sanctions, most forms of people-to-people exchanges between the US and Iran are prohibited without a special license. This means that US policy actually blocks Americans and Iranians from working together on projects like building hospitals or schools in Iran or promoting human rights. The Stand with the Iranian People Act (SWIPA) enables US Non-Governmental Organizations to work directly with the Iranian people and eliminates barriers that only serve to cut Iranians off from the world community.
SWIPA also targets companies that provide the Iranian government with software and technology used to censor the Internet and spy on the Iranian people. These companies currently receive US government contracts in spite of their aid of Iranian repression-SWIPA eliminates this funding. SWIPA also targets human rights abusers within the Iranian government by imposing travel restrictions against them and encouraging other governments to do the same.
NIAC President Trita Parsi explained the significance of SWIPA: “Standing with the Iranian people does not mean speaking loudly about solidarity with Iranians while continuing to push for sanctions that punish the very people we claim to support. It doesn’t mean imposing democracy on Iran from the outside in a manner that undermines the people in Iran who are already fighting for it. Standing with the Iranian people means-as a first step-rethinking decades of unhelpful US policies on Iran that unintentionally have served to strengthen Iran’s hardliners.”
“Iranian Digital Empowerment” Act (IDEA)
NIAC President Trita Parsi welcomed the new proposal, calling it a “long overdue correction of one of the most glaringly self-defeating aspects” of US sanctions on Iran. Due to ambiguities in current US sanctions law, companies and private citizens in the US are barred from sending software to the people of Iran, including important communication and anti-censorship tools that ensure the free flow of information. The Iranian Digital Empowerment Act clarifies that US sanctions do not apply to software that enables the people of Iran to circumvent government monitors and censors as well as communications software and services.
“Sanctions alone are not going to alter the Iranian government’s behavior,” Parsi said, “but the last thing US laws should do is hinder the Iranian people’s ability to access information and communication tools online.” Recently, Microsoft and Google suspended certain instant messaging services in Iran, citing their obligations under US sanctions. Facebook also considered cutting its service to Iran prior to the election, though ultimately decided against such a move, which would have deprived the Iranian people of a critical outlet for communicating post-election events to the outside world. Still, current regulations are ambiguous about the legality of offering online services to Iran.