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US eases internet sanctions on Iran in support of protesters

US Treasury Department extends sanctions waivers for Iran to social media platforms, video conferencing and cloud services.

Washington, D.C. – The Biden administration has granted a license to ease sanctions on internet services in Iran, saying the move aims to support “the free flow of information” for Iranians amid widespread anti-government protests.

The US Treasury Department said Friday the decision was in response to Iranian authorities cutting off internet access in the country to disrupt demonstrations and “to prevent the world from watching their violent crackdown on peaceful protesters.”

“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter government efforts to monitor and censor them,” Deputy Finance Minister Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

The ongoing unrest in Iran was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini after she was arrested in the capital Tehran last week for “inappropriate dress”.

Iranian police have denied that Amini was beaten in custody, but her case has sparked demonstrations across the country and a global outcry against Tehran.

Earlier this week, internet watchdog NetBlocks documented an “almost total disruption” in internet service in western Iran and a partial one in the capital, as well as nationwide restrictions on social media and communication platforms Instagram and WhatsApp.

“As brave 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,” Adeyemo said Friday.

The US license extends sanctions exceptions to social media platforms, video conferencing and cloud services, and “anti-censorship tools and related software.”

Various sectors of the Iranian economy have been under severe US sanctions since former US President Donald Trump scuttled the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.

President Joe Biden is seeking a return to the pact under which Iran scaled back its nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions on its economy, but diplomatic efforts to revive the deal have stalled.

In recent days, Biden and his top aides have expressed support for Iranian protesters.

“Today we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran who are demonstrating right now to secure their fundamental rights,” Biden told the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the US government also imposed fresh sanctions on Iran’s “morality police” over the death of Amini and the subsequent crackdown on protests.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken welcomed the Treasury Department’s updated license and accused Iran of “violently repressing peaceful protesters” who are furious over Amini’s death.

“In light of these steps, we will help ensure that the Iranian people are not isolated and kept in the dark. This is a concrete step to provide meaningful support to Iranians demanding respect for their fundamental rights,” Blinken said in a statement.

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