Monday, February 6

EU and US consider further sanctions on Iran over protest crackdown | Iran

The EU and the US are considering further sanctions against Iran over the attempt to suppress demonstrations and strikes in universities over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in a police detention center.

Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, condemned Iran’s disproportionate use of force and said all options would be on the table at the next meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers. The main options are helping to prevent the internet being shut down by Iran, and further economic sanctions.

Demonstrators at the street protests – now in their 10th day – have also called for greater support from the west, as well as help in communicating with the outside world.

The spokesperson for the Iranian the foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, has condemned the US for trying to help those seeking to bypass the Iranian internet shutdown, saying the action taken by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) last Friday was “another sign this country is seeking to weaken the security and stability of Iran.”

He said the US action would not go unanswered.

More than 75 people have been killed in the Iranian authorities’ crackdown against the unrest, a rights group said on Monday. The Iranian authorities’ official death toll, meanwhile, remained at 41, including several members of the security forces.

Traditional VPNs are not always effective in Iran, and Elon Musk, the owner of SpaceX, on Friday persuaded the US Treasury to lift any threat of sanctions if he helped Iranian protesters by introducing the Starlink satellite internet service in the country. Starlink users are able to bypass a country’s terrestrial communications networks, freeing them from internet censorship.

But Musk has said his Starlink requires terminals – dish and router – inside the country – something the Iranian government is unlikely to support, requiring him to take the risk of being sued by Iran in the international courts if he presses ahead without their support.

Starlink’s activation in Ukraine earlier this year is not comparable since the Ukrainian government supported his move once its own communication networks were disrupted by Russia’s invasion.

The EU is understood to be looking at how it can encourage more software companies to sign the Danish foreign ministry-backed “Copenhagen pledge on tech for democracy”, a statement on how to keep the internet open and free.

The ambassadors of the UK and Norway to Iran were also summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry in protest at the two European countries’ stance.

The head of the Iranian judiciary has been issuing ever stronger warnings about the punishment that will be meted out to those who took to the streets or supported those who did.

In the US, Republican senators are calling for the US to announce it is withdrawing from the negotiations on the future of the Iran nuclear deal. Senator Marsha Blackburn wrote: “The Iranian government murdered a woman for not wearing a headscarf. How can Joe Biden still be pushing for a nuclear deal with a terrorist regime?”

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Sunday refused to link the protests to the US approach to the nuclear talks, saying: “We’re talking about diplomacy to prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon,” and adding: “If we … succeed, the world, America and its allies will be safer.”

Inside Iran, protesters speaking to the Guardian said they needed help from the west to drive home the impact of the demonstrations.

“The people of Iran have woken up, the regime cannot censor our voices. I am used to coming out on roads… facing brutal violence from the police. The world should show the cruel face of this regime,” said Mohammed, a 25-year-old protester who uses only a single name. “We call on the west to sanction this regime. The entire Iran has woken up to the unprecedented resistance spread in the smaller cities too. Global leaders should come up and help Iranian people.”

A 23-year-old female protester said: “We need help to be heard as they shut down the internet, they are killing more than 100 people every day across the country and they make sure less footage goes out [so] they can make it seem it’s not as violent as it is.

“We are clashing with the police every time but we will fight and come out daily to throw this regime out.”

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