Iran sanctions stifling Iran’s freedom movement
May 9th, 2013
11:47 AM ET

Iran sanctions stifling Iran’s freedom movement

By Ryan Costello, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ryan Costello is a policy fellow at the National Iranian American Council. The views expressed are his own.

Sweeping sanctions on Iran appear to have claimed their latest victim: the Samsung App store. Samsung has reportedly decided to block access to its App store in Iran from May 22. If true [Editor’s note: Samsung declined to comment to CNN], it is the latest sign that Western sanctions are restricting technology from the Iranian people, damaging the cause of democracy and human rights in Iran.

In 2009, Iranians protesting a stolen presidential election utilized the internet, cell phones and social media to organize, skirt government censorship and capture their government’s incorrigible human rights abuses.  The Iranian regime found that authoritarian repression was not so easily hidden in a highly connected, digital world.  The murder of Neda Agha-Soltan by a government militia, captured on video with a cellphone, helped to galvanize domestic and international opposition to Iran’s repression. However, weeks ahead of the first Iranian presidential election since 2009, U.S. and European sanctions are blocking Iranians from the same technology that helped the Green Movement organize for human rights and democracy. Such counterproductive policies only help the regime’s hardliners to repress and censor the Iranian people, stifling democratic change.

Last week, Samsung reportedly notified its Iranian users that they would be restricted from the “Samsung Apps” online store due to “legal barriers” imposed by sanctions.  One wonders why sanctions on Iran, imposed due to concerns over possible weapons dimensions to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, would prevent average Iranians from being able to download a New York Times app or Angry Birds game. But the web of sanctions on Iran has become so blind and indiscriminate that virtually any transaction raises the risk of devastating penalties, even if certain transactions benefit U.S. interests.  Today, if an entity chooses to do business in Iran, it risks being cut off from the Western financial system and the vast majority of the global economy.

Thus, Samsung actually represents a rarity – an international communications company that has operated within Iran and offered services to Iranian citizens in their native language. Now, it appears that they too will scale back on their services, following the path of other global telecommunication firms.

The vast majority of goods that helped fuel the Green Movement in 2009 remain under sanction, including hardware like cell phones and laptops, commercial software and encryption tools like virtual private networks (VPNs), services including satellite internet access and web hosting, and financial transactions that facilitate the transfer of these goods and services. As a result, U.S. policy is making it harder for Iranians to organize, document human rights abuses, and access freely available information on the web. Even Iranian Americans last year reported they were in some cases being blocked from buying Apple products out of inflated fears that they might, in turn, be shipped to Iran, an act that would violate U.S. sanctions.

In 2012, in response to Tehran’s efforts to censor and block the internet, President Obama condemned the “Electronic Curtain” that was descending on the Iranian people and declared that Iranians “have a universal right to access information, and to freely assemble online.”  Additionally, the Obama administration took some very limited steps to ensure that Iranian citizens were able to access widely available communication software.  However, these exemptions are so narrow that most companies whose software is exempt don’t allow their services to be accessed in Iran.

Due to the sweeping nature of U.S. sanctions policy, which has inhibited Iranian communication and access to information, it is hard to argue that we aren’t helping the regime to lower the “Electronic Curtain.”

The Green Movement signaled the approach of an era in which authoritarian regimes would be held accountable by publics connected to one another and the outside world.  With the first Iranian presidential election since 2009 weeks away, it’s high time to get our policy on the right side of history.  By exempting goods that facilitate Iranian communication and access to information from sanctions, we would pressure the regime to abide by human rights and respond to calls to move toward democracy. Such a simple, commonsense measure would do far more to boost the cause of democracy in Iran than indiscriminate sanctions that burden the Iranian people rather than the regime.

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Topics: Iran

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soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Quigley

    Another example of why the politics of hunger that the right-wing thugs in Washington are applying against Iran isn't working and serves no useful purpose whatsoever! Moreover, there is not inasmuch as one shred of evidence that the 2009 Iranian presidential election was stolen by anyone, just more Western right-wing propaganda! Enough of this ignominy!

    May 9, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Reply
    • wjmccartan

      Well said, Quigley. Thank you.

      May 9, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply
      • wjmccartan

        Phunnie Boy, is using his alias' again, the harder the crunch of the sanctions against the country of Iran the better. The dollar has dropped like a hammer, their ability to finance terrorism in Lebanon, which also affects their ability to push weapons through into Palestinian terrorist Hamas. These sanctions will probably be lifted in October or November after the American government goes in and destroys anything that has to do with Iran's nuclear program. So look for the sanctions to be lifted about four to eight weeks after the bombs stop falling. Once again I won't lose a bit of sleep.

        May 10, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • The Decline

      So please tell me, how well did the green movement work when it had access to these apps? Did it change the outcome of the elections? No. Did the evidence provided from the vids and pics help sway the rest of the world to help them in their plight? No. Are they in the exact same situation without the apps as they were with the apps? YES!! The Iranian regime is going to be oppressive regardless and if they believed these programs and apps to be a problem for them they will simply block them themselves so your point, and the point of this article is moot.

      May 10, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Reply
      • mf3

        so why restrict access to apps. the government isn't using the App store!

        May 11, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • The Decline

      Also, in case you completely forgot, Obama is the one who has approved these hard-lined sanctions in the last 4 years, not the GOP so maybe you should stop with the biased partisan BS and educate yourself.

      May 10, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Reply
      • are122

        Obama minions can't do that. No matter what, they just can't.

        May 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • are122

      Wow, you really think their presidential election means something. You better talk to the Supreme Leader about that.

      May 12, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  2. amir

    It is what we Iranian telling for many years. Most sanctions are counter productive If we assume the the real goal of US is to help democracy and secularism in Iran. Most people who are affected by sanctions are modern Iranian. Religious and pro regime people do not have any interest in sanctioned item and don't care if west shut down the whole internet etc. West pushing Iran toward a north Korea state and the regime in Tehran actually is not against the idea of becoming north Korea since they see even there is no progress in north Korea but the regime there is very stable and remain in power for more than 50 years

    May 9, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Reply
    • Iranian Pride

      The problem in the end is the government of Iran itself, obviously. The American government is just trying to come to terms with how Iran is now through the best way they can. For everything to really work out in the end, the Iranian people must stand up and change their government for the better. If you check out there are more thoughts on this issue. The main goal should be a democratic and secular change. Following any blogs like the one above (which I recommend) is the best way to reach supporters for this change, and to get the Iranian people moving through encouragement.

      April 1, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Reply
  3. S.H.

    By following sanctions for more than 20 years now across countries, we know more analysis is needed...see some new evidence here
    which comes from here

    May 10, 2013 at 8:41 am | Reply
  4. Hahahahahahahaha

    The author used the words "Freedom" and "Iran" in the same sentence!!!! Hahahahahhaahahaha

    May 10, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  5. hissingturtle

    I'm not so sure that not having the samsung app store is restricting anything in Iran.

    May 11, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    this site is jammed again.

    May 12, 2013 at 11:17 am | Reply
  7. rightospeak

    No one seemed to care when sanctions against Iraq killed over a million children some years back . Madeline Albright was quoted as saying that it was worth it. What barbarism , what inhumanity !!!. The sanctions on Cuba kept Castro in power and impoverished the Cuban people.
    Sanctions imposed on Germany after WW I contributed to the rise of Hitler. Sanctions on Iran raised the price of oil which probably the oligarchs running the show wanted. Now it is harder on the people of Greece, but the ruling elites do not care. They will start to care when they are jailed for crimes against humanity .

    May 12, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Reply
    • wjmccartan

      Thank you, rightospeak. You said it all!

      May 12, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  8. fk iran and FK THE SHIIA

    Thos iranians terrorists are helping the hizboallah terrorists in lebanon , syria and iraq to kill the sunni and kurds , kill the christeans
    helping qodos army to kill more , they sending weapons , money , and oil to syrian thugs......ATTACK IRAN NOW, HET RED OF THE SNAKE HEAD BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. THOSE EVIL SHIIA CULTS ARE WORSE THAN HITLER

    May 13, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  9. steve from alberta- canada

    iran is helping bashar al kalab , they kill so far 122, 000 civilains they kill christeans, kurds, sunnia and all they are minorities shiia in syria controling and killing the majority sunni of 88% !!!!! hizboallah terrorists are helping asad as all thos shiia thugs helping each other , israel and usa must attack hizboallah, syria and iran now end the terror now.

    May 13, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  10. Jo Black

    Nonsense. The sanctions work. Keep them in place. The only thing stifling freedom in Terrorist Iran is Terrorist Iranians. When the Iranians are ready, they will throw off the yoke. It will be tough. Both their political and clerical communities are predominantly evil.

    May 15, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Reply
  11. Louise

    By 2020 every country in Asia will have China as their major trading partner and China will have the world's largest economy. The Chinese are not sanctioning Iran according to the US led sanctions. Iran already has the most important country as its ally and friend – China, it does not need the soon to be number two – America as it best friend. As the US continues its decline and becomes less important in the world it will lose allies.

    China could not care less about Israel. It is not in China's interest to let Israel become the most important military power in the Middle East.

    May 18, 2013 at 12:37 am | Reply
  12. Rick McDaniel

    Give us a break. Sanctions didn't work anywhere in the world, and they aren't working now, either.

    May 19, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  13. Aam Aadmi Party

    This kind of Public Movement can happen in anywhere and anytime. This kind of Public Movement happen when a certain thing reach its extreme that time the peoples come outside and join the movement.

    August 27, 2013 at 8:23 am | Reply
  14. AmericanIndianmovement

    I support their movement. But this article is dumb. Having access to samsungs app store is not a human right. In fact, with everyone spying on everyone, they are better off without it. Jus sayin

    November 15, 2013 at 8:34 am | Reply
  15. AmericanIndianmovement


    November 15, 2013 at 8:43 am | Reply
  16. AmericanIndianmovement

    Words are checked and regulated on this site. I advise any free thinking human being to leave this site and never post here again. Words that arent even offensive are flagged. What the C stand for un CNN again?

    November 15, 2013 at 8:44 am | Reply
  17. wpsamanb

    This is absolutely untrue. There are no sanctions related to general electronic technology. Any restrictions are from Iran's side not the US. In fact, the Obama administration has pushed for more user technology and sanctioned companies for sending surveillance technology to the government of Iran. This article is a lie probably paid for and sponsored by the Iranian regime.

    March 5, 2015 at 9:28 pm | Reply

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