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Electronic discrimination: Iranís web-based enemies

By Kourosh Ziabari - posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013


The inhumane sanctions by the United States and its European allies against Iran know no boundaries. At the cost of the lives of thousands of Iranian patients suffering from different types of cancer, thalassemia, hemophilia, HIV/Aids, psychiatric disorders and other diseases, the West has banned the export of life-saving medicines and medical equipment to Iran. As a result, the health of those patients who cannot find medicines needed for their survival is deteriorating. The companies that do business with Iran will be immediately penalized by the U.S. government and so far no exemptions have been made to ensure that ordinary Iranian citizens will at least get access to foodstuffs, medicines and other humanitarian goods.

The recent wave of sanctions has also targeted Iranian media with several satellite providers across Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America taking Iranian television channels off air, denying millions of viewers around the world the chance to find an alternative, Iranian perspective on world affairs.

However, the sanctions have been so extensive and widespread that they even deprive Iranian citizens from enjoying the latest products in technology. Almost all the laptops and computer devices available in Iran's tech market are manufactured in China and are definitely of lower quality as compared to their U.S. and Europe-made counterparts.

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Contrary to their claims that they care for the wellbeing and happiness of the Iranian "people" and that their problem is only with the Iranian "government", the Western governments have banned the most basic and necessary internet services to Iranian users under false pretexts, showing that they are exercising double standards in a hypocritical way.

The internet explorer "Google Chrome" is unavailable for downloading by Iranian users, and so are the instant messaging software "Google Chrome", picture sharing platform "Picasa" and the geographical surveying application "Google Earth." Although Iranian computer geeks know tricks to circumvent these limitations, for the majority of Iranian computer users these services are not easy to access.

Ironically, Google lifted the limitations in early 2011 when the opponents of President Ahmadinejad took to the streets and staged demonstrations. Google announced that it would ease the restrictions to allow the protesters to communicate more smoothly and to organize rallies and mass demonstrations. "There are many activist layers on Google Earth. Anyone can create a layer to show exactly what is going on in Iran," said Google's head of public policy, Scott Rubin.

Rubin also said that having access to Google Chrome would be of additional use to the protesters: "In a country with a history of government surveillance it is useful having a browser that can't easily be hacked."

It is clear that even when the American internet giant made some concessions, it did not intend to serve the interests of the Iranian people in general, but rather meant to contribute to the weakening of the government and to the empowerment of the opposition.

The limitations imposed on Iranian internet users by the United States are not new or unprecedented. On 19 August 1997, President Clinton signed the 13059 executive order, which stipulated harsh restrictions on Iranian internet users and computer companies in terms of using the U.S.-produced software, hardware and other technology.

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According to this order, "the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a United States person, wherever located, of any goods, technology, or services to Iran or the Government of Iran, including the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply of any goods, technology, or services to a person in a third country" was to be prohibited.

According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, only a handful of commonplace computer applications including document readers such as Acrobat Reader, plug-ins such as Flashplayer and Shockwave and "free mobile apps related to personal communications" are legally downloadable in Iran.

In April 2003, in a racially discriminatory and politically motivated decision, it was reported that the popular career and job-finding website Monster.com removed the profiles and résumés of users from a number of countries on the U.S. Department of State's blacklist including Iran, Syria, Sudan, Myanmar, Cuba, Libya and North Korea.

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Article edited by Michaela Epstein.
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About the Author

Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist, writer and media correspondent. In 2010, he won the presidential medal of Superior Iranian Youth for his media activities. He has also won the first prize of Iran's 18th Press Festival in the category of political articles. He has interviewed more than 200 public intellectuals, academicians, media personalities, politicians, thinkers and Nobel Prize laureates. His articles and interviews have been published in such media outlets as Press TV, Tehran Times, Iran Review, Global Research, Al-Arabiya, Your Middle East, Counter Currents, On Line Opinion and Voltaire Network and translated in Arabic, French, German, Turkish, Italian and Spanish.

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