Canada ratcheted up sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, adding 30 individuals and 82 entities to an economic blacklist and banning almost all exports to and imports from the country. But in a unique move, certain communication tools won’t be covered by the ban, a reflection of the increasing importance placed on them as a potential tool for regime change.
“Canada’s new sanctions include exemptions for technologies that protect Iranians online and help them break through the regime’s curtain of propaganda,” said a release announcing the latest round of economic measures.
The fine print describes the technologies as “equipment, services and software that facilitate secure and widespread communications via information technologies.”
Cellphones, laptops and secure Internet connections helped fuel widespread protests in Iran after the country’s last presidential elections in 2009.
Since then, the Iranian regime has been slowly tightening control and censorship efforts, which are expected to increase even further ahead of the coming election in June.
But at the same time, the international community has been increasing sanctions in response to Iran’s nuclear program.
The restrictions have been decried by some as having the unintended consequence of cutting off access to the electronic tools needed to fight back against such suppression.
For example, last month Samsung announced that it was blocking Iranians from accessing its mobile application store, a move understood as being directly connected to potential penalties for violating international rules.
Activists in the United States have been calling on their government to lift its own sanctions on consumer communication tools as well.
Canada’s decision to exempt such tools comes after the government co-hosted a two day online event earlier this month aimed at reaching activists inside the regime to provide a much-needed boost of morale ahead of the elections.
It’s part of the government’s efforts to maintain contact with Iranians despite having cut off formal diplomatic ties with Iran last September.
“While we have lost faith in the regressive, clerical military dictatorship of the Ayatollah, we have not lost faith in the people of Iran,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Wednesday.
Not all of the technology sold by Canadian or American companies necessarily goes to activists.
A 2011 study by researchers at Harvard, the University of Toronto and Ottawa firm SecDev found that well-known web security firms, including at least one Canadian company, provide the software used by Middle Eastern government to censor the web in their countries.
The latest round of Canadian sanctions comes after talks last month between Iran and the United Nations Security Council, as well as Germany, failed to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
Similar efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency have also been unsuccessful.
Iran says their nuclear program is aimed at power generation, but the international community fears it is trying to produce weapons and is seeking fixed controls.
“Canada, like many of our closest allies, is taking every possible effort to halt Iran’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities,” Baird said.
“The path of nuclear non-compliance will only bring further isolation for Ayatollah Khameini’s clerical, military dictatorship.”
Round after round of sanctions have been imposed on Iran both by the United Nations and its member states since 2006.
Earlier this week, the proof of their effect on the Iranian economy was reflected in the approval of a new budget there which was 36 per cent less than the year before.
Western sanctions have also collapsed the Iranian currency, now set at 35,000 rials to the dollar, nearly triple the rate of last year.