US government officials have been calling out Iran on its harsh treatment of bloggers and journalists for some time now. Now the US State Department is trying to put some teeth into those condemnations. The department announced sanctions against four Iranian individuals, along with five Iranian “entities”—government agencies and private companies.
The sanctioned organizations have all limited access to media, by jamming satellite broadcasts and “restricting Internet connectivity.” They’ve also censored and closed newspapers, detained and even tortured journalists according to the State Department. The sanctioned agencies include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the country’s Press Supervisory Board, and the Center to Investigate Organized Crime, which helps “identify Internet users who published material insulting government officials,” the AFP reports.
Communications Minister Reza Taghipour has been personally cited. Two Iranian software companies are being sanctioned as well: AmnAfzar Gostar-e Sharif, and PeykAsa, along with their founder Rasool Jalili. The companies monitor Iranian Web traffic and block access to Facebook, eBay, and YouTube.
All the sanctioned people and entities will have any US assets frozen. The US wants to stop the “Iranian government from creating an ‘electronic curtain’ to cut Iranian citizens off from the rest of the world,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
The AFP report on today’s sanctions also describes a recent act of somewhat ham-handed censorship by Iranian officials, who accidentally blocked Gmail when they were trying to censor only YouTube. “Unfortunately, we do not yet have enough technical knowhow to differentiate between these two services,” said Mohammad Reza Miri, an official charged with filtering the Internet in Iran. “We wanted to block YouTube and Gmail was also blocked, which was involuntary. We absolutely do not want YouTube to be accessible.”