January 22, 2018

U.S. Sanctions Abet Iranian Internet Censorship

By Peter Harrell

President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement if Tehran does not agree to renegotiate its terms this spring. But rather than tear up the nuclear agreement, the Trump administration should work to support the next #IranProtests — which would be far more likely to bring change to Tehran than would a U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

Over the past several weeks, Iranian repression and internet censorship have stifled the widespread protests that, beginning late last month, shook Iranian politics and drew global support. Rapidly escalating events caught many in Washington off-guard and struggling to find opportunities to assist the protesters — an all too common pattern when it comes to Iran. But the underlying tensions that drew the protestors into the streets — low wages, unemployment, and government corruption — remain. Now is the time for the Trump administration to ensure that the United States will be prepared when Iranians come back out to demand change.

Following the standard foreign policy playbook, the Trump White House issued forceful public statements supporting the protesters and sanctioned Iranian officials involved in political repression, both of which were welcome moves. But a more powerful form of support for the Iranian public would be to liberalize the U.S. sanctions rules that continue to impede Iranians’ access to cutting-edge apps and other technology — tools that would enable the protesters to more effectively defy the Iranian government’s repression and censorship.

Read the full commentary in Foreign Policy.

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