US relaxes internet sanctions on Iran in support of protesters

US Treasury expands Iran sanction exemptions to social media platforms, video conferencing and cloud services.

Iranians protest against Mahsa Amin death
Demonstrators gather around a burning barricade during a protest for Mahsa Amini in Tehran, September 19 [AFP]

Washington, DC – The Biden administration has issued a license to relax sanctions on internet services in Iran, saying the move aims to “support the free flow of information” for Iranians amid widespread anti-government protests.

The US Treasury Department said on Friday that the decision comes in response to the Iranian authorities choking off internet access in the country to disrupt demonstrations and “prevent the world from watching its violent crackdown on peaceful protestors”.

“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

The ongoing unrest in Iran was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini following her arrest in the capital, Tehran, for “unsuitable attire” last week.

Iranian police have denied that Amini was beaten in custody, but her case has mobilised demonstrations across the country, igniting a global outcry against Tehran.

Earlier this week, internet watchdog NetBlocks documented a “near-total disruption” to internet service in western Iran and a partial one in the capital, as well as countrywide restrictions on the social media and communication platforms Instagram and WhatsApp.

“As courageous Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is redoubling its support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people,” Adeyemo said on Friday.

The US license expands sanction exemptions to social media platforms, video conferencing and cloud services, as well as “anti-censorship tools and related software”.

Since former US President Donald Trump nixed the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, various sectors of the Iranian economy have been under heavy US sanctions.

President Joe Biden is seeking a return to the pact, which saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of sanctions against its economy, but diplomatic efforts to revive the deal have stalled.

In recent days, Biden and his top aides have expressed support for Iranian protesters.

“Today, we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights,” Biden told the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the US administration also imposed new sanctions on Iran’s “morality police” over the death of Amini and subsequent crackdown on protests.

On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the Treasury’s updated license, accusing Iran of “violently suppressing peaceful protesters” angry over Amini’s death.

“In the face of these steps, we are going to help make sure the Iranian people are not kept isolated and in the dark. This is a concrete step to provide meaningful support to Iranians demanding that their basic rights be respected,” Blinken said in a statement.

Source: Al Jazeera