• 28 June 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Iran Internet Censorship, Sanctions

Given the public attention surrounding Apple’s over-enforcement of sanctions, now is a good opportunity to look at the broader issue of how sanctions policies negatively impact access to communications technology for people inside Iran. Today, NIAC called on Internet service companies to lift the “electronic curtain” over Iran and other sanctioned countries in a letter signed by a coalition of Iranian, Cuban, and Syrian diaspora organizations, and human rights and Internet freedom organizations.

The fact is, even as the White House takes efforts to lift the “electronic curtain” imposed by Iran’s government, U.S. sanctions are part of the fabric of that curtain.

As of now, many companies that offer basic Internet communication services and websites–like Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, or Go Daddy hosted sites–do not allow their services to be accessed by Iran, even though they are technically exempt from sanctions. NIAC is targeting these companies in today’s letter and demanded that the public of sanctioned countries have access to the basic tools and platforms necessary for communicating safely and securely online

Before 2009, Iran was subject to extremely strict and broad sanctions at the hands of the United States, completely blocking communication technology such as computers, phones, modems, etc. These communication tools are increasingly essential in embargoed countries as a means of communicating freely and supporting operations that are pushing for social and political change. With these tools cut off, activists struggle to find the means necessary to communicate freely–relying on a sort of cyber black market involving Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or thumb drives to access software, services, and websites.

Especially after seeing the effect that social media had during the 2009 Green Movement, the Obama administration has made some adjustments to U.S. sanction policy. In 2010, the Obama Administration exempted basic, free Internet communication tools from sanctions and issued special licenses for other Internet communication software and hardware. In addition, this past Norooz, Obama pushed Internet communication companies to make their services available in Iran and to help lift the “electronic curtain” that is helping to silence the Iranian people.

However, despite these efforts, many companies are still not providing their services to the public of embargoed countries. This is unacceptable.

Thus, NIAC and groups including United4Iran, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access, Council of the Americas, Cuba Study Group, and the Syrian American Council are going public. “We ask you to end unnecessary and counterproductive restrictions to sanctioned countries,” reads the letter, “to ensure that at-risk populations have equal access to a free and secure Internet conducive to facilitating social, political and economic growth.” The letter explains that, without these services in sanctioned countries, “Users are forced to browse and participate on a limited and unsafe Internet, exposed to regime surveillance, censorship and hacking.”

NIAC hopes that with enough pressure these companies will work to lift the growing “electronic curtain” over Iran and stop unnecessarily over enforcing sanctions. By having the services of these Internet communication companies, including Apple, Google, Yahoo, and Go Daddy, said companies would stand with the people of Iran and provide the simple, but extremely valuable, tools necessary for communicating safely and securely online.

Posted By Roshan Alemi

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Sign the Petition

 

7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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