Iran is notorious for being a foe of the Internet, and the U.S. government has decided to do something about it.
The State Department announced today that it was sanctioning Iran for creating an "electronic curtain" that cuts off its citizens from the rest of the world.
The sanctions are against four individuals and five organizations that have been particularly oppressive when it comes to the freedom of information on the Internet.
According to a statement from State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, these groups have "engaged in censorship or other activities that prohibit, limit, or penalize freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran, or that limit access to print or broadcast media, including by jamming international satellite broadcasts into Iran, and related activities."
Among those sanctioned are Minister of Communication and Information Technology Reza Taghipour, who the U.S. government says has been responsible for ordering satellite television broadcasts to be jammed and Internet connectivity restricted. Also sanctioned were Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and its Press Supervisory Board, which have reportedly shuttered several newspapers and jailed journalists.
"Such abuses demonstrate the Iranian Government's ongoing campaign to censor its own citizens, curtail their freedoms, and to prevent the free flow of information both into and out of Iran," Nuland wrote. "Countless activists, journalists, lawyers, students, and artists have been detained, censured, tortured, or forcibly prevented from exercising their human rights."
This year's Reporters Without Borders' "Enemies of the Internet" report says that online crackdowns and surveillance have amplified in Iran over the past year. During protests and elections, the authorities have caused Internet slowdowns and disconnections along with jamming telephone lines, the report says.
In February, Iranian officials cut off access to the Internet, leaving millions of people without access to e-mail and social networks. And when the Internet came back, it was still rife with censorship. In March, the BBC alleged that Iran's government jammed two of its satellite feeds into the country and possibly even carried out a denial-of-service attack on the news site. And more recently, in September, the government indefinitely shut off YouTube.
The U.S. sanctions will block or freeze any U.S. assets belonging to the named individuals and groups. What's more, these people won't be able to travel to the U.S. or do business with any U.S. citizens.
"These actions underscore the Administration's ongoing commitment to hold Iranian government officials and entities responsible for the abuses carried out against their own citizens," Nuland wrote. "With the measures we are taking today, we draw the world's attention to the scope of the regime's insidious actions, which oppress its own people and violate Iran's own laws and international obligations."