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

How Google, Yahoo, and Go Daddy are Helping to Silence Iranians

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.

  • 17 May 2012
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • Congress, Iran Internet Censorship, Let's Talk Iran, Sanctions

The State of Iran’s Internet Repression

Podcast with Collin AndersonRecently, Collin Anderson, Washington-based Internet researcher  discovered a “Request for Information” or RFI issued by Iran’s Ministry of Information that raised questions about the government’s claims for setting up a “Halal Intranet.” What is the state of Iran’s cyber repression? What is the impact of U.S. sanctions and export controls on Iranian’s access to Internet communication? What can the U.S. government do to counter Iranian government cyber repression? Find out the answers to these questions and more with Collin Anderson.

  • 27 October 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in DC, NIAC round-up, US-Iran War

Iran news roundup

Fareed Zakaria says Iran sanctions are enriching IRGC, Obama’s policy is same as Bush’s, and it’s time for talks
Zakaria notes that the Obama of 2008 held that we needed to break away from the pressure-only strategy of the Bush administration and increase diplomatic engagement with Iran.  Now two years into the Obama administration, the U.S.’s policy on Iran has begun to resemble the pressure only strategy of the Bush years.  Fresh from his recent trip to Tehran, Zakaria says the result has been the strengthening of the state and the weakening of the private sector and civil society.  Zakaria calls for Obama to return to the principles he set in 2008 to break with the failed policies of the Bush Administration and find a diplomatic route to break the impasse. (Washington Post 10/26)

Yasaman Baji – Iran experiencing increase in nationalism, anti-U.S. sentiment, and criticism of its politicians in wake of alleged Iranian assassination plot
According to Baji, the recent revelation about an alleged plot by the Iranians to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the related uptick in tensions, has been met with skepticism by Iranians.  She says they are troubled by what they interpret as the U.S.’s intention to weaken Iran with increased sanctions and laying the ground work for a future military attack.  This has led to a strengthening of Iranian nationalism and has increased criticism of the U.S., according to Baji, but she also notes Iranians fault the hardline approach of the Iranian government and the Ahmadinejad administration. (Yasaman Baji –Inter Press Service 10/24)

Iran says interested in returning to negotiations with world powers
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast announced that Iran was ready to restart negotiations with the international community over its nuclear program.  He said that Iran is “ready for useful dialogue and negotiation…which can be based on talks regarding cooperation on common ground.”  The impetus behind this latest public statement by Iran is believed to be EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s recent letter to Iran, where she offered a resumption of negotiations.  The Iranian deputy foreign minister in charge of European and American affairs, Ali Ahani, claimed that the forthcoming official Iranian response to Ashton’s overture was going to be “softer in tone” than it had been in the past. (Daily Star 10/26)

Changes by Google’s may obstruct Iranian citizen’s ability to get around government online censorship
Iranian internet users’ ability to skirt government censorship might be jeopardized by an upcoming move by Google to make changes to its RSS reader, Google Reader.  Iranians, who live in a country with some of the most intense internet censorship in the world, depend on Google Reader to get around government censorship. While these changes are likely to have only a limited effect on Google Reader users in the U.S., they are expected to have a large impact on the average Iranian’s ability to avoid governmental censorship. (TechCrunch 10/26)

Supreme Leader hints at future move to abolish Presidency
Recently, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei publically suggested that in the future the Iranian presidency may no longer be necessary.  In place of the publically elected president Khamenei indicated that a parliamentary chosen Prime Minister could be created.  These comments by Khamenei may be only a threat to current President Ahmadinejad or they could be evidence that a plan to remove the presidency is being seriously looked into.  Ahmadinejad’s recent challenges to Khamenei and the unrest following the 2009 presidential elections may have demonstrated to Khamenei that the existence of a publically elected president poses a significant threat to his power and can lead to public mobilization that is hard to control. (Reuters 10/25) (New York Times 10/26)

Joint Subcommittee Hearing on Iran
On Wednesday the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management held a joint hearing entitled “Iranian Terror Operations on American Soil.”  The panel of speakers included Gen. Jack Keane, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Dr. Matt Levitt, Dr. Lawrence Korb, and Col. Timothy Geraghty.

Commentary on the event discussed the level of rhetoric that occurred when “House Republicans gave the stage Wednesday to hardliners who called for everything from cyber attacks to political assassinations.” (Huffington Post 10/26)(LA Times 10/26)

Al Gharib pointed out that General Keane’s claim during the hearing that Iran has been America’s “number one strategic enemy” since 1980 neglected to recall that in the 80’s the U.S. was in the middle of the Cold War and saw the U.S.S.R. as the largest strategic threat. (Think Progress 10/26)

In his opening remarks, Committee chairman Peter King claimed that Iranian diplomats inside the U.S. are acting as spies and should be kicked out of the country.  Additionally, he expressed his belief that the recent alleged assassination plot was an “act of war” by Iran. (Huffington Post 10/27)

Statements and video of the hearing can be found on the Homeland Security Committee’s website.

Chinese tech firm Huawei assisting Iranian government to crackdown on reformists
The Chinese tech firm Huawei is today Iran’s second largest mobile phone service provider.  In addition to normal cell phone services, it has been reported that the company is also assisting the Iranian government and IRGC in its crackdown on dissidents.  As a cell phone service provider Huawei has access to both their users’ locations and communications.  By passing this information to the Iranian authorities it is allegedly helping Iran arrest and quiet dissent in the country. (Wall Street Journal 10/27)

Clinton gives interview with Voice of America Persian and Parazit on U.S.-Iran relations
Giving two interviews in the same day directed at the Iranian people, Secretary of State Clinton discussed both the U.S.’s relationship with the Iranian government and its relationship with the Iranian citizenry.   While she did express her concern that Iran was moving from a dictatorship to a military dictatorship, she also stated that she hoped to see the U.S. reengage with Tehran to find a peaceful solution to their problems.  Addressing the Iranian public, she explained that she desired to see the U.S. forge a stronger relationship with the Iranian people.  To assist in this process, she announced the launching of a “virtual embassy” before the end of the year.  The role of the online embassy would be to help facilitate Iranian study and travel to the U.S. (EA World View 11/26)

  • 6 October 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Monolithic Myths

I could not help but laugh at the irony when I read successive articles in the New York Times on Monday in which, in the first article, Iran’s government was referred to monolithically as “the mullahs”, while in the second, the Times reported that senior clerics in Iran are actually being targeted for government censorship.

The divided and competing interests within Iran’s political scene is nothing new.  But following the 2009 election crisis, this reality was exposed even to those who do not closely follow events in Iran. And the un-Islamic nature of the Iranian government, despite official claims, has been revealed time and time again, especially in the past two years–including in the brutal crackdown on protesters and the government’s attacks on dissident clerics’ homes and offices.

Despite all these obvious divisions, the New York Times published a news analysis discussing Bob Woodward’s new book and what it may reveal about Obama’s policy towards Iran. Throughout the article, author John Vincour constantly refers to the Iranian government as “the mullahs.”

Yet as the Times reported the same day (“In Sign of Discord, Iran Blocks Web Sites of Some Clerics”), Iran’s government is  censoring the websites of Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei and Grand Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat-Zanjani. Those attempting to access the websites were instead redirected to the standard Iranian government filtering page.

The most likely reason? Both Sanei and Bayat-Zanjani openly condemned the violent crackdown on the street protests following the fraudulent presidential elections in 2009. Muhammad Sahimi, a UCLA professor and political columnist for Tehran Bureau, said of the censorship:

“Filtering their sites is precisely because of the public positions that they have taken… This is part of the ‘cyberspace war’ that the hardliners have publicly announced against the Green Movement and its supporters.”

As Grand Ayatollah Sanei said on his website in response to the censorship, “Let it not go unsaid that freedom of expression is emphasized under Islam.”

So why does John Vincour talk about Iran’s government in shorthand as “the mullahs”?  It doesn’t just happen once. Vincour continuously refers to the Iranian government as a group of mullahs, as if they are all united and of the like mind.

Now, I’m not talking about being politically correct. I’m just talking about being correct. Vincour ignores all the rivalries and complexities in Iran’s leadership and unites them all under the same banner.

Many clerics refused to congratulate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his supposed election victory; Ayatollah Dastgheib called on the Assembly of Experts to review the performance of the Supreme Leader; the homes and offices of Montazeri, Karroubi, and Sanei have all been attacked; and recently, a dispute erupted over Azad University. These are but a few examples of the many rifts and complexities in Iran’s leadership.

To be perfectly honest, considering how often Iran is in the news today and how often it is the subject of policy discussions, I expect more from not only the New York Times, but also of those who are leading the debate on Iran. And I am not only bothered by Vincour’s ignorance, but also surprised.

Perhaps as we debate and formulate policies regarding Iran, it is time to do ourselves a favor and be mindful of the intricacies of Iranian politics before we talk about Iran as if it were a monolith.

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.



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