Dumb sanctions and smart sanctions

Even as the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act is in the works, undermining the Iranian uprising, two pieces of legislation have been introduced to the US Congress that appear to take seriously the fact that Iranians are standing up to the regime. Stand with the Iranian People Act (SWIPA) and the Iran Digital Empowerment Act (IDEA) propose sanctions that affect only Iran’s regime and not the people. Moreover they modify old sanctions in the communications technology area in ways that could help the protest movement.


The bill says, “It should be the policy of the United States to work to ensure that sanctions are clearly targeted at the Government of Iran and individuals within the Government of Iran, rather than the Iranian society as a whole, in order to avoid creating hardship and inflicting harm on the Iranian people.”

SWIPA would allow American humanitarian organizations or individuals to work directly with their private Iranian counterparts. Reading the bill, I can’t be sure if it means Iranian-Americans could send money to Iran for humanitarian (perhaps human/civil rights) causes, but clarifications will come as the bill is discussed. SWIPA also imposes targeted sanctions on Iran’s human rights abusers and says companies that sell surveillance or censorship technology to the IRI will not be awarded US government contracts.


To Paraphrase Jim Moran–one of the congressmen who introduced the bill– when the early sanctions laws were passed in the 1980s, Congress didn’t mean to limit the exchange of information with private Iranian citizens. So exceptions were made for cassette tapes, telegraphs and such. Internet wasn’t around then, so those exceptions for weren’t listed. This later caused some companies to withhold Iranian’s access to web mail, instant messaging, and online news sites. The congressman says, “Given the tectonic shifts in Iranian society following the fraudulent national elections and emboldened democracy movement that rose from it, we need to move fast to make these sanctions smarter and more relevant to current technology.”The legislation he has introduced permits the sale of:

— Tools that allow private Iranian citizens to circumvent online censorship and monitoring efforts imposed by the Government of Iran; and

–Software and related services that enable the Iranian people to communicate with each other and the outside world.

Here’s an NIAC web page with more info and a ready-made letter to send to your congressman in support (or not) of the bills. Also, I plan to write more letters saying that the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act ( IRPSA) may slow the progress of democracy in Iran, therefore it sucks.

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