By Jamie Crawford
The United States lifted a ban on exports of certain personal communications equipment and software to Iranians on Thursday and sanctioned Iranian government, military and judicial officials for their alleged roles in suppressing freedom of expression.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a general license that allows for U.S. citizens to send more sophisticated communication gear not readily available to Iranian citizens within their country.
It also serves as an effort to work around Iranian government censorship of communications, and allow for greater communication with people outside Iran.
The license would not extend to any aspect of the Iranian government, or to any individual or entity already sanctioned by the United States government.
Specifically, the license allows for the export or re-export of certain mass market communication devices like smartphones, satellite phones and satellite dishes.
It would also cover anti-virus software to better assist efforts to combat government attempts to place malware on personal computers as a form of censorship.
The announcement was made in conjunction with the State Department.
"As the Iranian government attempts to silence its people by cutting off their communication with each other and the rest of the world, the United States will continue to take action to help the Iranian people exercise their universal human rights, including the right to freedom of expression," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The State Department also imposed visa restrictions on nearly 60 Iranian government officials who it said have participated in human rights abuses of Iranian citizens.
The officials include government ministers, a deputy chief of staff to Iran's supreme leader, officials from the military and intelligence sectors, as well as judiciary and prison officials.
Thursday's actions expand on an initiative begun by the Obama administration in 2010 to expand Internet freedom in countries with a high degree of government supported censorship and repression.