One of the most pressing concerns for ideological and totalitarian governments is the control of information. The manifestation of new internet technology has caused a temporary time out in that process. In the early days of the internet, although the number of users was very limited, and Farsi websites were not common yet, it was possible to access information online without restriction. Within a short time, the totalitarian government figured out the political danger this free space presented to their regime. The government started to filter the internet, beginning with websites with pornographic content and continuing to politically oriented sites. Later, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter were also filtered as they encouraged certain political and social developments. Internet speed has also become an instrument exploited by the government by intentionally disrupting internet access. However, these controls do not satisfy the totalitarians who are dreaming of a “national internet (intranet)” and total control of data. A couple of months ago, Reporters without Borders (RSF) released a report, labeling Iran, as well as China, Russia, Bahrain and Vietnam – the five enemy states of the internet. According to this report, Iran intends to increase its supervision on the net and create a “national” or “Halal” internet (intranet). (1)
One of the tools the Iranian government uses to control the flow of information on the net is through the passing of laws and regulations that provide a legal credence to their actions. In 2001, the High Council of Cultural Revolution passed the “directive of the general policies of computer information networks” and it was signed by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. (2) This directive established a committee which consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Intelligence, Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, national Radio and Television, and later representatives of the Islamic Publicity Organization joined as well. The responsibility of this committee was to determine which websites needed to be blocked. The cat and mouse game between the Iranian government and the internet users began that day. The government would block websites and the users would look for ways to evade the filtration. It went so far, that according to the councilor of the Iranian Judiciary, the number of blocked websites numbered over five million. Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, a reporter from Mehr news agency stated, “The majority of these websites contain immoral and anti-social content, and are legally blocked. People spend many hours every day on various websites and this action has destructive effects. The Internet inflicts much harm to the society and planning is needed to reduce these harms that are presented by enemies. The enemies are trying to attack our religious identity by misusing the internet.” (3) The protection of Iranian religious identity is the government’s main argument used to justify controlling the net.
Internet and Politics
Currently, the filtration of websites can be triggered by publicizing content incompatible with Islamic values, opposing the constitution, insulting the Supreme Leader, causing pessimism and disappointment in people regarding the legitimacy and efficiency of the Islamic regime and publicizing and propaganda for illegal parties. The filtration increases during specific political events. The government even tries to limit the flow of information by reducing internet connection speeds.
For instance, a short time before the 2009 Iranian presidential election, Facebook, the most popular social network in Iran, was blocked. Even G-mail and Yahoo email could not be accessed in Iran at times when protesters planned to hold demonstrations against the disputed outcome of the elections. In March 2012, Alef website reported that “access to e-mail services has slowed down last week too. This triggered protests from the users and the media, but neither communications officials nor security officials offered any response to the problem. Considering the fact that more and more businesses use e-mail, disconnecting the services without prior notice causes vast troubles. Apparently those engaged in cutting e-mail services do not know much about the dimensions of the anti-security outcomes and how much descent their actions cause among the intelligence specialists; and have no regard for public opinion and the Iranian people.” (4)
Fighting back against filtering
Iranian internet users have tried to fight back in two ways. The first method is through letter writing campaigns and protests to try and have their voices heard by the authorities. The second method is to try and create ways to go around the filtering to access websites. Some designers of these proxies such as Hossein Ronaghi Maleki have been sentenced to imprisonment.
In one instance, more than a hundred people active in the media signed a statement which objected to the actions of the “filtering committee” that had limited certain news agencies and news websites. The statement partly read, “One of the most important problems for the media to act in this area is the plurality of the decision making centers on the issue. It has adverse and costly effects when any of those decision making centers gain practical powers to enforce their view points in the media without having to offer any acceptable reasons or excuses or without any legal process. A nonrelated authority calling an official outlet and asking them to either omit some material from their page or face filtration, has become a trend that has been on going in the past year.” (5)
There are groups who try to provide people with anti-filter software and proxies so that they can surf the internet freely. For example, the Deutsche Welle Persian website has tried to open the path for its readers through this technique. (6) Another example of this would be the Committee against Censorship in Iran, or Iran Proxy which tries to teach ways of escaping filtration by creating different blogs. Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, an official of this committee who worked under the pseudonym Babak Khorramdin, was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of Tazir (calculated by Islamic metrics), after his real identity was discovered. (7)
The National Internet Project
When the Iranian government was faced with a wave of anti-filter software allowing users to get around the government sponsored filters, they decided to increase their control over cyber space through a new idea. BBC Persian reports that the Iranian government has proposed the idea of a “national internet” as a solution to the problem of internet connections and threats of cyber attacks. However, research by the BBC shows that the result of this project is a network only seen in North Korea. Observers warn that “Iran might give up walking on the information superhighway by cutting away from the internet and be satisfied with walking the alleys of an intranet, separated from the outside world.” (8)
The news of the efforts by the government to start the “national internet” and cut the connections to the global network has evoked fear in Iranian users. In reality, it is a step that if taken, Iranian users would be put on a separated island and would lose the ability to freely access information forever. Although this dream of the government and nightmare of the people has not yet been realized, many Iranian youth fear that the final phase of this project will soon be announced.
Free access to information: a basic right
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, free access to information is a basic human right and no government can infringe on this clear right. The 19th Article of the declaration reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” However, the Iranian government has infringed on this right by passing laws, filtering internet websites, keeping internet speed low and disrupting the internet on specific days. If finalized, the project of a national internet would not leave any opportunity to access and distribute information freely.
Lastly, we can consider the free flow of information as a right which when violated, leads to the violation of other rights, because the people who can access information freely, can recognize their rights and can express the violation of their human rights to other citizens and people all around the world.
Source: Iran Human Rights Voice
On June 17, president-elect Hassan Rouhani called for new ways “to build trust” with the international community on Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Rouhani, in his first press conference, said both the United States and Iran need to find a way to heal „a very old wound.” He spoke expansively on domestic issues and foreign policy, promising to follow the “path of moderation and justice, not extremism.” The following are excerpts with a link to the broadcast with English subtitles.
In two separate statements, the United States called on the Iranian government to heed its people’s will after the surprise election of Hassan Rouhani in the first round of presidential elections. The Obama administration also “remains ready to engage with the Iranian government directly” to reach a diplomatic solution in the long standoff over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.
On June 4, the United States sanctioned a major network of front companies for hiding assets on behalf of Iranian leaders. The Treasury targeted The Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order and 37 ostensibly private businesses under it. Many are front companies involved in real estate, construction, banking, and other sectors of Iran’s economy. “While the Iranian government’s leadership works to hide billions of dollars in corporate profits earned at the expense of the Iranian people, Treasury will continue exposing and acting against the regime’s attempts to evade our sanctions and escape international isolation,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. The Obama administration has implemented four rounds of sanctions in the past week alone. The following are excerpts from the press release, including a link to the full text at the end.
The fraudulent 2009 Iranian presidential elections clearly showed the world that in Iran, elections are neither free nor fair. In demonstrations that followed, the Iranian people were denied their basic rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly as regime forces killed scores of protesters and detained thousands more.
With the next Iranian presidential elections approaching on June 14, 2013, the Iranian regime is diligently working to prevent a repeat of the events of 2009. In order to achieve this, much as it did in the last election, the regime relies on technology and equipment provided by Western and Asian firms. Whether it is telecommunications technology misused to restrict and monitor internet and cellphone communication, motorbikes ridden by the basij to terrorize civilians, or construction cranes used to hang dissidents, foreign firms providing such equipment must immediately end their Iran business or become willing partners in the regime’s ruthless human rights abuses.
To learn more and to send a message to these company executives…
Construction Cranes Used in Public Executions
In 2012 Iran executed at least 580 people, with 60 of these executions carried out in public. Executions and other forms of violent corporal punishment, such as public lashings, send a clear message to the Iranian people that dissent in the upcoming elections will not be permitted, on penalty of death.
The most extreme form of this intimidation is public executions. Most public executions are carried out using construction cranes of foreign manufacture. Through its Cranes Campaign, UANI has succeeded in pressing a number of foreign crane producers to responsibly end their Iran business, but a number remain, including: Atlas Cranes, Cargotec, XCMG, and Zoomlion.
Company Action Alerts:
Technology & Telecommunications: Censorship & Surveillance
Sensitive technology and telecommunications equipment is used to restrict and monitor Internet and cellphone communication. The movement of cellphone users can even be tracked, so regime authorities can easily locate dissidents and detain them. During periods of unrest, this is a critical tool used by the Iranian regime to control its population and maintain its iron grip on power. In the 2009 election:
- Nokia Siemens Networks technology (and that of its now divested unit Trovicor) was used to monitor and block communications by protesters.
- Ericsson and Creativity Software technology was used to track dissidents based on their cellphone location.
- On behalf of its client MTN Irancell, Huawei suspended text messaging and blocked the Internet phone service Skype.
Since the elections, the regime has also blocked public access to popular social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, while Ayatollah Khamenei has self-servingly maintained his own accounts on these platforms.
Company Action Alerts:
Nuclear Program Tools
The Iranian regime abuses Iran’s nuclear program as a means to garner support among the population, particularly for its reckless and hegemony-seeking foreign policy. This is despite the fact that the regime’s nuclear program has resulted in severe economic sanctions that have caused significant hardship for the Iranian people.
A number of foreign companies continue to assist Iran’s nuclear drive. NFM, and SELI sell Iran tunnel-boring machines that the regime uses to digmassive underground tunnels and facilities that shield and obscure its nuclear program.
Company Action Alerts:
Iran’s Military, Police, and Basij Militia Fleet
In order to intimidate its citizenry and suppress demonstrations, the Iranian regime fields a fleet of riot trucks, police cars, and motorcycles. Anemblematic image of the crushed 2009 election protests was members of the basij militia on motorbikes chasing down and beating protesters.
Iran’s military, police, and basij militia fleet for internal security includes:
- Honda motorcycles
- Nissan jeeps
- Toyota pickup trucks
- Yamaha motorbikes and ATVs
- KTM motorbikes
- Dalian Eagle Sky riot trucks
Iran’s state-controlled auto industry also manufactures Peugeot and Renault vehicles en-masse.
Company Action Alerts:
Dalian Eagle Sky
Video Surveillance Equipment
The Iranian regime misuses surveillance technology to suppress the citizens of Iran and maintain its iron grip on power. Iran’s cyber police have also required internet cafes to install 24-hour surveillance cameras in order to further restrict the freedom of Iranian internet users.
Companies that sell video surveillance systems to Iran include such household brands as Sony, Samsung, LG, and Panasonic.
Company Action Alerts:
It’s a privilege to join President Obama in sending warm wishes for health and prosperity to the people of Iran and all those who celebrate Nowruz around the world.
As you gather with your loved ones around the Sofreh Haft-Seen, we are proud to note that many Americans will join you in celebrating Nowruz. This year, we are once again reminded of the outstanding contributions of Iranian-Americans and Iranian students here in the United States, which reflect the rich history of your culture. I am proud of the Iranian-Americans in my own family, and grateful for how they have enriched my life.
Despite the difficult history of the last decades between the United States and Iran, there is an opportunity to work diplomatically to reduce tensions and address the mistrust between our two countries, to the mutual benefit of both of our people. As President Obama has said, we are strongly committed to resolving the differences between Iran and the United States, and continuing to work toward a new day in our relationship. We sincerely hope Iran’s leaders choose to fulfill their obligations to not only the international community but also to their people so that Iran can begin to take its proper place in the community of nations, and the Iranian people can have access to the same opportunities and freedoms enjoyed by others around the world.
Just last month, Americans and Iranians came together to demonstrate outstanding sportsmanship and camaraderie on the wrestling mats in Tehran. On this Nowruz, we would like to reaffirm our desire to continue building strong people-to-people ties to promote greater understanding, peace, and progress.
May this New Year be filled with a renewed sense of hope and a new commitment to peace and fundamental freedoms. On behalf of the United States, we extend our best wishes for a joyous and prosperous New Year. Nowruzetoon Mobarak!
Source: U.S. State Department.
Norooz is a colorful children’s app that uses age-appropriate language and interactive features to explain the official start of the Persian New Year and the many traditions surrounding this festive holiday, which has been celebrated by Iranian people for more than 3,000 years.
In the Norooz app we introduce not only Norooz and the spring equinox, but many other events and traditions related to the Persian New Year. For example, children will learn about Chaharshanbeh Soori, also known as the festival of fire, which is held several nights prior to the equinox; they will gain an understanding of a Haft Sin traditional table setting; and they will find out what happens on the 13th day of Norooz.
To strengthen learning, we’ve included several interactive features, including a make-it-yourself Haft Sin table and a hands-on explanation of the spring equinox that helps children understand the earth’s revolving relationship with the sun.
Deutsche Banken berufen sich auf das nachfolgende Schriftstück/Verordnung (OFAC) der amerikanischen Behörden. In diesem Dokument sehen sie die Begründung ihrer Kontokündigungswelle gegenüber iranischen Staatsbürgern in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
As the Government of Iran continues to ignore its international obligations, the U.N. Security Council and governments around the world, including the United States, have implemented a series of steadily tightening sanctions intended to impose consequences on Iran’s leadership for their failure to adhere to their obligations and alter their dangerous course. These sanctions have had a tangible impact on the Government of Iran’s ability to engage in illicit activities, making concrete the costs and isolation that the Government of Iran will continue to face so long as its leadership chooses to ignore their international obligations.
From the start, the United States and its international partners have worked to ensure that these sanctions do not prohibit the delivery of humanitarian assistance and exports of humanitarian goods to Iran. Accordingly, under U.S. law, the sale and export of nearly all types of food and medicine to Iran are broadly authorized, and require no specific license or special authorization from the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) or any other agency of the U.S. government. The sale and export of basic medical supplies are likewise broadly authorized. Other types of humanitarian exports may be authorized pursuant to a specific license from OFAC. In such instances, where U.S. persons are either specifically or generally authorized to engage in humanitarian exports to Iran, financial institutions here and abroad are generally permitted under U.S. law to process all financial transactions necessary to facilitate the trade.
Part I of this document provides an overview of current policies with respect to humanitarian assistance and exports to the Iranian people – first, for U.S. persons and financial institutions, and second, for third-country financial institutions. Part II provides additional guidance for the public as to specific procedures for license applications and other relevant guidance.
I. OVERVIEW OF CURRENT U.S. POLICIES
For U.S. persons, including financial institutions:
U.S. persons, including financial institutions, are subject to a number of specific prohibitions regarding dealings with Iran. Nonetheless, OFAC administers U.S. laws and regulations in a way that allows Americans to continue their humanitarian support of the Iranian people without providing support to the Government of Iran. The U.S. Government’s commitment to facilitating humanitarian engagement with the Iranian people is manifest in its longstanding policy to authorize exports or re-
exports of humanitarian goods, such as agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices, to Iran. The following policies also demonstrate this commitment:
- Food items, medicines, and medical supplies. OFAC’s general licenses allow for the export or re-export by U.S. persons of certain food items, medicines, and basic medical supplies for Iran without further specific authorization, subject to certain limitations. Financial transactions in support of trade in certain food, medicine, and medical devices from the U.S. (or from a foreign country), may also be conducted without specific OFAC authorization, subject to certain restrictions. For details on these aforementioned restrictions, please refer to section 561.201 of the Iranian Financial Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 561 (IFSR), and section 560.532 of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 560 (ITSR). Donations to the Iranian people (but not the Government of Iran) of food and medicine intended to relieve suffering are exempt from sanctions.
- Transfers of personal remittances to Iran. U.S. sanctions regulations permit U.S. financial institutions to process noncommercial, personal remittances to Iran. These transactions may include a personal transfer of funds from the United States to Iran to assist a family member or friend, provided that the payment is processed through a third-country financial institution before reaching Iran, i.e., not a direct transfer from a U.S. bank to an Iranian bank, which is a prohibited transactions under current U.S. law.
- Favorable licensing policy for certain projects benefitting the people of Iran. OFAC also administers a favorable licensing policy for projects and activities in or related to Iran that are designed to directly benefit the Iranian people in the areas of democracy and human rights and academic and cultural exchange programs. This means that OFAC will interpret its regulations to allow such projects and activities to the greatest extent permitted by U.S. law.
- Expedited application process for certain activities benefitting the people of Iran. OFAC recently adopted an expedited application process for certain categories of U.S. persons, including entities receiving funds from the Department of State to engage in the proposed activity, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and other appropriate agencies of the U.S. Government, seeking to engage in certain human rights, humanitarian, and democracy-related activities with respect to Iran.
- Disaster Assistance. At times of crisis and tragedy in Iran, the U.S. Government has implemented policies to facilitate expedited humanitarian assistance to Iran. For example, in December 2003, OFAC issued a temporary authorization that allowed U.S. persons to make donations to nongovernmental organizations to aid those affected by the Bam earthquake in Iran. In response to Iran’s recent earthquakes of August 2012, OFAC issued a similar temporary authorization allowing U.S.-based non-governmental organizations to transfer funds related to earthquake relief efforts to or for the benefit of persons in Iran.
For third-country financial institutions:
U.S. policy does not prohibit the involvement of third-country financial institutions in the processing of funds transfers to or from Iran pertaining to authorized or exempt transactions, subject to certain exceptions. For example, OFAC’s general license for the transfer of personal remittances broadly allows third-country banks to handle the transfer of funds to or from Iran, unless certain prohibited partners are involved, such as a financial institution designated under OFAC’s WMD or counter-terrorism authorities. In addition, U.S. sanctions law contains explicit exceptions that allow foreign financial institutions to conduct or facilitate transactions for the sale of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, or medical devices to Iran without penalty, as long as the transaction does not involve a designated entity or otherwise proscribed conduct. Third country institutions may contact OFAC’s Compliance Office at 1-800-540-6322 to clarify sanctions concerns regarding humanitarian transactions with Iran.
II. PROCEDURES FOR LICENSE APPLICATIONS AND OTHER CLARIFYING GUIDANCE
The guidance provided below is intended to assist U.S. persons seeking an OFAC license for humanitarian assistance and related export activities requiring specific license authorization. In addition, it provides guidance for those seeking to determine their eligibility to engage in activities already authorized by general license or that are exempt from sanctions. Further instructions on applying for a specific license from OFAC may be found on OFAC’s FAQ page. Please note that there are no application fees.
Exportation or re-exportation of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran: As noted above, the exportation or re-exportation to Iran by U.S. persons of most food items, and certain medicine
- and basic medical supplies, are generally authorized and can occur without further specific authorization from OFAC. For the exportation or re-exportation to Iran of agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices that do not fall under the general authorizations, OFAC will consider specific license applications on a case-by-case basis. Anyone considering engaging in a transaction involving food, medicine or medical devices is advised to consult sections 560.530 and 560.532 of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 560 (the ITSR). [Guidance on how to apply for a TSRA license can be found here.]
Although OFAC regulates exports of agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices to Iran, Americans interested in exporting agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices to Iran should consult the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) to determine commodity classifications for exports in these categories, as only items classified as EAR99 under the Export Administration Regulations are eligible for such exportation.
- Donations of humanitarian articles: Donations of food and medicine by U.S. persons intended to relieve human suffering are exempt from the sanctions on trade between the United States and Iran, provided such donations are not to the Government of Iran, Iranian financial institutions, or any other person whose property and interests in property are blocked. [Additional information on food and medicine donations to Iran can be found here. Please note that donations of humanitarian articles are separate and distinct from the disaster assistance referenced above in Part I.]
- Personal remittances: For information on the transfer by U.S. persons of personal, noncommercial remittances to Iran, please refer to section 560.550 of the ITSR. Personal remittances to Iran may involve those Iranian financial institutions whose property and interests in property are blocked solely pursuant to the ITSR and are not owned or controlled by the Government of Iran. [Additional clarification is also provided on OFAC’s FAQ page.]
- Democracy and human rights in Iran and academic and cultural exchanges: For U.S. persons, information on the specific licensing of projects and activities related to Iran designed to directly benefit the Iranian people in the areas of democracy and human rights in Iran, and academic and cultural exchanges, can be found at section 560.545 of the ITSR.
- Statement of Licensing Procedure in Support of Human Rights-, Humanitarian-, and Democracy-Related Activities with Respect to Iran: This statement contains procedures established pursuant to the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA), which was signed into law by the President on August 10, 2012. The guidelines of the procedure can be viewed here. [Additional clarification is provided on OFAC’s FAQ page.]
Guidance for U.S. parent companies regarding foreign subsidiaries: Consistent with Section 218 of the TRA, Section 4 of Executive Order (E.O.) 13628 prohibits foreign entities owned or controlled by a United States person from knowingly engaging in any transaction prohibited by the ITSR, E.O. 13599, Section 5 of E.O. 13622, or Section 12 of E.O. 13628, and provides for civil penalties on the U.S. parent or controlling company for any such violations. However, foreign entities owned or controlled by U.S. companies may be eligible to engage in humanitarian assistance and exports to Iran. For further information, please refer to OFAC’s FAQ page.
For further detailed information or guidance, please contact OFAC’s hotline at 800-540-6322 or 202-622-2490.
The 2007 documentary by Channel 4 about the ideology behind Iranian Shiism. The role of Imam Hussein and Islam among the Iranian people, the struggle between good and evil in contemporary politics and society viewed through the historical glasses of the tragic Karbala incident. Iranian pilgrims visit the tomb of Imam Hussein that tells their own hidden stories. Channel 4 attempts to reveal the mysterious martyrdom culture of Iranians to the British public.
A steady drumbeat of leaks suggests that the US and/or Israel may attack Iran sometime over the coming months. Once Upon a Time in Iran is a road movie featuring pilgrims and presidents: a journey to the spiritual heartlands of the Iranian people and a tale of martyrdom that defines their view of aggressors and the outside world.