Apple Should ‘Think Different’ on Iran Sanctions 

by , June 22, 2012

The continued nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5 +1 in Moscow ended yesterday with no sign of sanctions relief for ordinary Iranians. A spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the six powers, was quoted by The New York Times as stating that there is no question that EU sanctions will go into effect as scheduled on the first of July. 

Over the past three years we have witnessed a tremendous escalation of sanctions against Iran. Sanctions expert Dr. Joy Gordon, author of Invisible War: The United States and The Iraq Sanctions, has described the sanctions against Iran as overbroad and indiscriminate. They will likely fail to achieve their objective, in this case curtailing Iran’s nuclear program, and instead will add to the suffering of ordinary Iranians who are already suffering under a repressive government.

The extent to which Dr. Gordon’s prediction is accurate is made evident by a report yesterday from WSB-TV in Atlanta. The story follows Iranian U.S. citizens in their attempts to purchase an Apple iPad. The Apple salesperson refused to complete the sale because the women spoke Farsi, the primary language spoken in Iran and identified herself as being from Iran. After learning of similar experiences from other Iranians the reporter accompanies one of the Iranian women who had sought to purchase the iPad to the Apple store. Once at the Apple store, their refusal to sell to Iranians is reiterated by the manager and they are shown Apple’s policy on Iran and other sanctioned countries:

The exportation, reexportation, sale or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a U.S. person wherever located, of any Apple goods, software, technology (including technical data), or services to any of these countries is strictly prohibited without prior authorization by the U.S. Government. This prohibition also applies to any Apple owned subsidiary or any subsidiary employee worldwide.

Just three days ago New York Times reporter Nicolas Kristof recounted his visit to a store in Tehran selling iPads and iPhones with a statue of Steve Jobs. This should not come as any surprise to Mr. Kristof or the U.S.government. Not three years ago Secretary of State Clinton was boasting of young Iranians and their “Twitter revolution” in response to Iranian use of social networking to organize protests after the disputed 2009 Presidential elections. Iran is a tech-savvy, young society, with an estimated 28 million Internet users and the highest number of active blogs in the Middle East.

But what doesn’t seem to matter to Clinton or Kristof is that the very sanctions policy driven by the U.S. is further isolating and repressing the society they speak so highly of. They know these sanctions have already started to take their toll on the Iranian people. In the midst of an already devastated economy Iranians have been faced with inflation rates of over 20%, estimates of underemployment at 35%, and some reported food and medicine shortages.

I went to Iraq in 2002 and witnessed first-hand what comprehensive sanctions on a country can do to the well-being and livelihood of a society. Imposition of sanctions did not weaken the regime’s hold over its people, it was strengthened. It did not force people to rise-up against the Dictator Saddam; rather, the economic sanctions made many struggle and worry about how they were going to get by. 

The U.S. has made some efforts to ease technology software sanctions against Iran, but in the breadth of the current sanctions it is impossible to prevent the chilling effect against all things Iranian. The sanctions against Iran are neither smart nor targeted. Technology and telecommunications companies like Apple should be leading the charge to lift sanctions that violate freedom of speech and access to information, not overzealously applying these policies. Iranian-Americans, estimated at over 1 million,should protest against sanctions on Iran while simultaneously calling on Apple to “think differently” and stand with their users in Iran.