Washington: The Treasury Department said Friday it is allowing American tech companies to expand their business in Iran, one of the world’s most restricted countries, to increase Internet access for Iranians.
The Iranian government cut off internet access for most of its 80 million citizens during a crackdown on demonstrators protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
Morality police detained Amini last week, saying she did not properly cover her hair with the Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women. Amini collapsed at the police station and died three days later.
At least nine protesters have been killed in clashes with Iranian security forces since violence erupted over the weekend. US sanctions were imposed Thursday on leaders of the ethics police and law enforcement agencies.
The Treasury Department said the update issued Friday authorizes general license tech companies to offer more social media and collaboration platforms, video conferencing and cloud-based services. The updated license also removes the condition that communications are personal, which Treasury said burdened companies with the need to verify the purpose of the communications.
As courageous Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is doubling down on its support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wali Adeyemo said in a statement.
With these changes, we are helping the people of Iran better equip themselves to counter the government’s efforts to monitor and censor.
In 2014, the Treasury’s sanctions branch issued a license authorizing the export of software and services to Iran that would allow the free exchange of communications over the Internet with the aim of promoting the free flow of information to Iranian citizens.
Despite the allowance, companies are reluctant to do business in Iran because of the fear of violating existing sanctions and other laws that impose penalties.
On Monday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that his satellite internet firm Starlink would seek permission to operate in Iran. National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan said it was up to the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control to decide on Starlink’s next steps.