US eases sanctions on sale of mobiles to Iran


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The Obama administration has eased long-standing sanctions that have blocked American companies from selling mobile phones and other personal technology products to Iranian citizens, paving the way for ordinary Iranians to legally buy the latest Apple iPhone or Google tablet.

Restrictions that had been in place since the early 1990s, and which meant that Iranians who wanted American gadgets had to resort to the black market, were lifted on Thursday, with the US government saying the move was meant to “help facilitate the free flow of information in Iran and with Iranians”.

The reversal was interpreted as an effort to help bolster the opposition movement by giving it easier access to the tools it needs better to harness social media, which played a big role in the wake of Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential elections. They were used by the opposition “Green movement” to marshal global attention to its cause, and later inspired protesters in the Arab Spring revolts of 2011.

The timing is also significant, with the US changing its policy only weeks ahead of national polls in Iran.

While easing restrictions on the flow of communications technology to ordinary Iranians – the order by the US Treasury prohibits the export of gadgets and other technology to the government in Tehran – the Obama administration also imposed visa restrictions on nearly 60 officials and other individuals who, it said, “participated in the commission of human rights abuses related to political repression in Iran”. The US government had previously imposed similar bars on more than 50 people who it claimed had been involved in similar actions.