U.S. lifts ban on technology exports to Iran to help dissenters

The United States has lifted decades old restrictions on U.S. technology exports to Iran in efforts to facilitate communication among dissenters and thwart censorship and crackdowns by the Iranian government. The move will immediately allow the sale of mobile phones, computers, tablets, satellite receivers, and other personal communications equipment and software to Iranian citizens, but ...

AFP/Getty Images/BEHROUZ MEHRI
AFP/Getty Images/BEHROUZ MEHRI
AFP/Getty Images/BEHROUZ MEHRI

The United States has lifted decades old restrictions on U.S. technology exports to Iran in efforts to facilitate communication among dissenters and thwart censorship and crackdowns by the Iranian government. The move will immediately allow the sale of mobile phones, computers, tablets, satellite receivers, and other personal communications equipment and software to Iranian citizens, but not to government officials or groups involved with the regime. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said this will allow Iranians to avoid the government's "attempts to silence its people" and exercise their "rights to freedom of expression." The U.S. Treasury Department also announced sanctions on the deputy chief of staff for the Supreme Leader, and on the government censor, the Committee to Determine Instances of Content, for "contributing to serious human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime, including through the use of communications technology to silence and intimidate the Iranian people." Additionally, the State Department imposed visa restrictions for about 60 Iranian officials for involvement in political repression in Iran. The actions by the United States have come just about two weeks before Iran's presidential elections. In 2009, smart phones and social media played an important role in the Green Movement's protests over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared in an interview broadcast on Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar television Thursday, displaying confidence that the Syrian regime will defeat the over two-year old insurgency. Assad said that Syria and Russia are committed to weapons contracts, but did not speak directly about the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles Russia has promised to deliver. Al-Manar released a statement prior to the broadcast that Assad said a shipment of the missile system had already arrived in Syria. According to a Russian arms industry source, the deliveries of the S-300 would not begin before autumn. In the interview, Assad also warned Israel saying, "We will retaliate for any Israeli aggression next time." He additionally referenced the possibility of renewed fighting in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition's main coalition has claimed to have sent 1,000 fighters to reinforce rebel forces battling over the strategic town of Qusayr. The Syrian government has claimed advances in the region, and state media has reported the town is surrounded. A source said the number of fighters deployed was far fewer than 1,000 and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated "hundreds" of opposition fighters had broken through army lines northeast of the town. Syrian TV has reported that a British man, American woman, and another foreigner have been killed apparently fighting alongside opposition forces in Idlib province. Ali Almanasfi was a 22-year-old born in London and Nicole Mansfield, 33, was from Michigan. The report, however, has not been verified.

The United States has lifted decades old restrictions on U.S. technology exports to Iran in efforts to facilitate communication among dissenters and thwart censorship and crackdowns by the Iranian government. The move will immediately allow the sale of mobile phones, computers, tablets, satellite receivers, and other personal communications equipment and software to Iranian citizens, but not to government officials or groups involved with the regime. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said this will allow Iranians to avoid the government’s "attempts to silence its people" and exercise their "rights to freedom of expression." The U.S. Treasury Department also announced sanctions on the deputy chief of staff for the Supreme Leader, and on the government censor, the Committee to Determine Instances of Content, for "contributing to serious human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime, including through the use of communications technology to silence and intimidate the Iranian people." Additionally, the State Department imposed visa restrictions for about 60 Iranian officials for involvement in political repression in Iran. The actions by the United States have come just about two weeks before Iran’s presidential elections. In 2009, smart phones and social media played an important role in the Green Movement’s protests over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared in an interview broadcast on Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar television Thursday, displaying confidence that the Syrian regime will defeat the over two-year old insurgency. Assad said that Syria and Russia are committed to weapons contracts, but did not speak directly about the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles Russia has promised to deliver. Al-Manar released a statement prior to the broadcast that Assad said a shipment of the missile system had already arrived in Syria. According to a Russian arms industry source, the deliveries of the S-300 would not begin before autumn. In the interview, Assad also warned Israel saying, "We will retaliate for any Israeli aggression next time." He additionally referenced the possibility of renewed fighting in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition’s main coalition has claimed to have sent 1,000 fighters to reinforce rebel forces battling over the strategic town of Qusayr. The Syrian government has claimed advances in the region, and state media has reported the town is surrounded. A source said the number of fighters deployed was far fewer than 1,000 and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated "hundreds" of opposition fighters had broken through army lines northeast of the town. Syrian TV has reported that a British man, American woman, and another foreigner have been killed apparently fighting alongside opposition forces in Idlib province. Ali Almanasfi was a 22-year-old born in London and Nicole Mansfield, 33, was from Michigan. The report, however, has not been verified.

Headlines

  • Nigerian soldiers have uncovered a weapons cache and arrested three Lebanese men, suspected members of Hezbollah, for planning attacks on Israeli and Western targets.
  • The U.N.’s envoy to Iraq has warned that "systemic violence is ready to explode at any moment" amid a dramatic escalation of deadly attacks.
  • Turkish police have been working to clear demonstrators from an Istanbul park where a protest against the construction of a shopping center has escalated into a rally challenging the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

Arguments and Analysis

Overturn the Infiltration Law (Haaretz)

"On Sunday, the High Court of Justice will hear a petition against the so-called Infiltration Law, enacted in 2012. This law, one of the rotten fruits of the last Knesset, is a stain on Israel’s law books. It allows asylum seekers to be jailed for an unlimited period of time, when their only crime is that they can’t be deported from Israel due to the dangers they face in their country of origin.

Almost 2,000 men, women and children are currently being held under this law in prison camps in the south under extremely harsh conditions. One of the people named in the court petition is a 15-month-old infant from Eritrea who has been imprisoned in the Saharonim detention facility with her mother. Except in rare cases, the law requires people to be held in detention for at least three years.

The law’s greatest impact is on asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. The state accepts that they can’t be deported back to their own countries because of the dangers they face there, but it doesn’t examine each individual’s case to see if he or she is eligible for refugee status, or the status of someone who can’t be repatriated because of danger waiting at home. This position would be acceptable if the state didn’t exploit its non-recognition of their individual status as asylum seekers to portray them as "infiltrators" and criminals, and abuse them: Not only are they denied legal status here for the duration of their stay, but their lack of legal status is turned into a crime whose sentence has no time limit."

Iran: grim choices for president (Saeed Rahnema, OpenDemocracy)

"The mass uprising after the electoral coup of 2009, which came to be known as the Green Movement, involved a wide-ranging array of secular, left, liberal, and moderate religious elements. It was defeated mainly because of the unbelievably brutal suppression of the activists, which included killing, maiming, and raping arrested protesters. But the movement’s leadership also played a role. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoobi were both establishment figures; while they sought reforms, they did not want to challenge the regime in its totality. And the fact that the members of street movements failed to link up with workers and employees who had the power to shut down factories and other institutions as they had done during the Iranian Revolution of 1979, also contributed to this failure.

The situation is much worse for the democratic forces in Iran for this round of presidential elections than was the case in 2009. This is true despite the fact that the ruling cliques’ infighting has reached an unprecedented level, and different groups of the "Principlists" (ultra-right religious fundamentalists) who were united against the Islamist reformists during the last elections, are now openly fighting each other. The leadership hopes to prevent the election of any candidate that would not be loyal and subservient to the Supreme Leader. The manipulation of the electoral process in the Islamic Republic is now a long-standing tradition that takes place in two stages. Firstly, candidates must be approved by the twelve member Guardianship Council (appointed by the Supreme Leader). Secondly, when the electoral process starts, they mobilize a sophisticated machinery to ensure their favoured candidates’ emerge as victors when the polls close, either by actual or fabricated votes."

–By Jennifer T. Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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