U.S. eases Iran tech sales ban to support free speech

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The United States on Thursday lifted a ban on sales of communications equipment to Iranians and opened access to Internet services and social media, in a bid to help the Iranian people avoid government controls.

The U.S. State Department said the action will allow Iranians to skirt “attempts to silence its people by cutting off their communication with each other and the rest of the world.”

The decision immediately allowed U.S. companies to begin selling computers, tablets, mobile phones, software, satellite receivers and other equipment for personal use to Iranians, after such sales had been banned under sweeping sanctions on the country.

Also allowed were the sales and free provision of Internet communications like instant messaging, chat and email, social networking, sharing of photos and movies, web browsing, and blogging, the U.S. government said.

The move comes after Iranian authorities took another measure to curb internet freedoms in March by blocking the use of most “virtual private networks”, a tool most of its population used to get around an extensive government Internet filter, Iranian media quoted an official as saying, according to Reuters.

The U.S. also issued sanctions Thursday against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s deputy chief of staff and more than 50 other Iranian government officials for alleged human rights abuses.

The fresh sanctions target an Iranian intelligence unit responsible for blocking information and senior Khamenei aide Asghar Mir-Hejazi.

Mir-Hejazi is culpable in violent crackdowns on Iranians, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. She added that almost 60 other officials involved in abuses were also added to a U.S. blacklist.

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