US sanctions Iranian minister for internet shutdown

WASHINGTON

The U.S. imposed sanction Friday on Iran’s information minister for what it said is his role in severing the country’s internet during nationwide protests.

The Treasury Department called Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi a “key player” in Tehran’s “censorship and surveillance campaign,” which it said intensified during the anti-government unrest.

“Iran’s leaders know that a free and open internet exposes their illegitimacy, so they seek to censor internet access to quell anti-regime protests,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “We are sanctioning Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology for restricting internet access, including to popular messaging applications that help tens of millions of Iranians stay connected to each other and the outside world.”

Access to both fixed-line and mobile internet services was entirely cut off on Saturday after the government blamed outside forces, especially the U.S., for provoking protestors to vandalize public property.

Since then, the internet has remained inaccessible to the country’s 81 million people, many of whom have relatives and friends studying or working abroad.

Iranian authorities have remained tightlipped over the duration of the internet blockade, even though Jahromi told a news channel that it would be lifted “soon”.

The rights group Amnesty International said earlier this week that more than 100 people across the country were killed in the ongoing protests, while the government sources put the death toll at only two.

What started as peaceful protests turned violent when thousands took to the streets and set banks, shops and cars ablaze in different parts of the country.

Iranian authorities, including President Hassan Rouhani, have blamed “outside forces” for engineering the riots while underlining the right of Iranian citizens to register their concerns peacefully.

As a result of his blacklisting, U.S. persons are now prohibited from conducting business with Jahromi and any assets he has subject to U.S. jurisdiction have been frozen.
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