U.S. imposes sanctions against Iranians for Internet censorship

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The State and Treasury departments announced Nov. 8 U.S. sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities for having engaged in censorship or activities meant to limit freedom of expression.

Included in the new designations (.pdf) are Minister of Communications and Information Technology Reza Taghipour and three governmental entities, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the Press Supervisory Board and the Center to Investigate Organized Crime. The last entity helped identify Iranian Internet users who questioned the outcome of the contested 2009 presidential election there (some of whom were arrested) and has helped the Iranian government censor websites, Treasury says.

Also included in the list are two software companies, AmnAfzar Gostar-e Sharif and PeykAsa, firms both owned or controlled by an individual named on the list, Rasool Jalili. AmnAfzar Gostar-e Sharif produces a system known as Separ utilized by many Internet service providers in Iran to monitor web traffic and block selected websites. Another company product, Parsgate, provides content filtering, traffic authentication, instant messaging, peer-to-peer filtering, and Voice over Internet Protocol monitoring and filtering.

Jalili himself has attempted to acquire equipment for the monitoring of SMS traffic and has actively assisted governmental censorship and blocking of sites such as Facebook, eBay and YouTube, Treasury says.

Only this past September,  Iran cut off local access to Gmail for about a week in what Iranian government officials later said was an unintentional consequence of an attempt to strengthen its block against YouTube.

"Unfortunately, we do not yet have enough technical knowhow to differentiate between these two services," Mohammad Reza Miri, an Iran official, reportedly told semi-official Mehr News Agency in widely distributed quotes. "We wanted to block YouTube and Gmail was also blocked, which was involuntary. We absolutely do not want YouTube to be accessible," he said.

U.S. companies are already mostly prevented from doing business with Iranian firms; the designation of those individuals and entities is meant to draw attention to Iranian censorship and those who perpetuate it, a government official said. The new sanctions could also have a freezing effect on companies located in third countries, the official added.

The United States will work to prevent the Iranian government "from creating an 'electronic curtain' to cut Iranian citizens off from the rest of the world," State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a prepared statement.

For more:
- download a Treasury fact sheet on the new sanction designations (.pdf)
- read a Treasury press release on the new designations
- read a State Department press release on the designation

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