By FATIMA HUSSEIN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department said Friday it is allowing American tech companies to expand their business in Iran, one of the world’s most heavily sanctioned countries, to improve Internet access for the Iranian people.
The Iranian government shut down most internet access for its 80 million citizens during a crackdown on demonstrators protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s Morality Police.
Morality police arrested Amini last week, saying she did not properly cover her hair in the Islamic headscarf known as hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.
At least nine protesters have been killed in clashes with Iranian security forces since violence erupted over the weekend. US sanctions were imposed on morality police and law enforcement chiefs on Thursday.
The Treasury Department said an updated general license issued on Friday empowers tech companies to offer more social media and collaboration platforms, video conferencing and cloud-based services. The updated license also removes the requirement that communications be “personal,” which the Treasury Department said burdens businesses with the need to verify the purpose of communications.
“As courageous 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,” Deputy Finance Minister Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.
“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter government efforts to monitor and censor them.”
In 2014, the Sanctions Department of the Ministry of Finance issued a license authorizing the export to Iran of software and services that would enable the free exchange of communications over the Internet, with the intention of promoting the free flow of information for Iranian citizens.
Despite the approval, companies have been reluctant to do business in Iran for fear of violating existing sanctions and other laws that impose penalties.
On Monday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that his satellite internet company Starlink would apply for permission to operate in Iran. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said it was up to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to decide on Starlink’s next steps.
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