The U.S. government has
lifted sanctions on the export of a variety of consumer communications
devices, software and services including mobile phones to Iran ahead of
elections in that country.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the U.S.
Department of State, has issued a license authorizing the export to Iran
of certain personal communications services, software and hardware, it
said on Thursday.
Exports of the devices to Iran had been blocked since the 1990s, but
the U.S. government now holds that the new license aims to empower the
Iranian people as their government intensifies its efforts to stifle
their access to information.
The export of the equipment to the Iranian government or to any
individual or entity on a Specially Designated Nationals list continued
to be prohibited.
“As the Iranian government attempts to silence its people by cutting
off their communication with each other and the rest of the world, the
United States will continue to take action to help the Iranian people
exercise their universal human rights, including the right to freedom of
expression,” according to a statement
by the two U.S. departments.
The National Iranian American Council had earlier asked the U.S. government to lift sanctions on communication tools, with elections for a new president for Iran scheduled for June.
The license, which came into effect Thursday, allows for the export
and re-export from the U.S. of fee-based services, software and hardware
required for personal communications over the Internet, including
instant messaging, email, chat, social networking, sharing of photos and
movies, web browsing and blogging.
The products, software, and services now authorized for export to
Iran include mobile phones, personal digital assistants, satellite
phones, computers, consumer network equipment, anti-tracking software,
anti-censorship tools, virtual private networks, proxy tools and
voice-over-IP and video chat tools.
The National Iranian American Council had earlier asked
the U.S. government to lift sanctions on communication tools, with elections for a new president for Iran scheduled for June.
Referring to the killing of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan during
protests after the last presidential elections in Iran in 2009, the
council pointed out that the video of her death which had an impact
worldwide over the Internet was available “because an ordinary person in
Iran broke U.S. sanctions.” The Green Movement, opposing the ruling
regime, used social media extensively in its protests.
U.S. sanctions on communications tools in Iran have been in place
before social media, text messaging, and cell phones were an everyday
part of life, and were felt most acutely four years ago, at the height
of Iran’s Green Movement protests, the NIAC said in a statement. Except
for some limited actions taken by the U.S. to ease sanctions on basic,
freely available software, and to license other tools in 2010, the
sanctions on communications tools continued until the decision on
The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran as it holds that the country
is enriching uranium that could potentially be used in nuclear weapons.
Iran counters that its nuclear program has peaceful objectives.