WASHINGTON – The Treasury Department said Friday that it was allowing American technology companies to expand their business in Iran, one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, to boost Internet access for the Iranian people.
The Iranian government cut off 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.
Moral police detained Amini last week, saying she was not properly covering her hair with the Islamic veil, known as a hijab, which is compulsory 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 broke out over the weekend. US sanctions were imposed on the morality police and leaders of law enforcement agencies on Thursday.
The Treasury Department said an updated general license issued Friday authorizes technology companies to offer more social networking and collaboration platforms, video conferencing and cloud-based services. The updated license also removes the condition that the communications be “personal,” which Treasury said burdened companies with the need to verify the purpose of the communications.
“As brave Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is redoubling our support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people,” Treasury Deputy Secretary 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, Treasury’s sanctions arm issued a license authorizing exports of software and services to Iran that would allow the free exchange of communications over the Internet, intended to encourage the free flow of information to Iranian citizens.
Despite the concession, companies have been reluctant to do business in Iran for fear of violating existing sanctions and other sanctions laws.
On Monday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that his satellite internet company Starlink would seek permission to operate in Iran. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said it was up to Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to decide Starlink’s next steps.