By Setareh Ghandehari and Azadeh Shahshahani
Within days of lifting sanctions on the sale of communications equipment, software and services to Iranians, including computers, mobile phones, and anti-virus programs, the United States implemented a harsh new system of sanctions, including measures against the Iranian car industry and currency. This is the latest in a string of harmful and aggressive steps against the Iranian people. The U.S. must seize upon the election of reformist-backed Rowhani as the new Iranian President and immediately lift all sanctions against Iran.
While the U.S. government claimed on June 3 that it is still open to "a diplomatic solution," this new round of sanctions demonstrates that diplomacy is not the intention. Sanctions against Iran are not designed to bring about a peaceful resolution to a disagreement among nations. In a recent report issued by the Iran Project, former U.S. diplomats and Iran experts urge the Obama administration to rethink its Iran policy, recognizing that sanctions may in fact be leading to "an increase in repression and corruption," and "sowing the seeds of long-term alienation between the Iranian people and the United States."
This ninth round of sanctions imposed by the Obama administration further demonstrates that sanctions are simply war by other means. U.S. officials have stated that they are designed to "make Iran's weak currency even weaker and more volatile," acting to further punish the Iranian people. Iranians will continue to suffer while the government continues to tighten its grip and U.S. and Israel come closer to military attack.
Impact of Sanctions on the Iranian People
In the last 14 months alone, inflation in Iran has skyrocketed 18%. Sanctions have caused prices for food, rent, fuel and other basic necessities to rise steeply, by 100% in some instances. One particularly devastating effect of these financial sanctions is the inability of pharmaceutical companies to purchase and import basic life saving medicines, ranging from Tylenol to cancer medicine and even prenatal vitamins. Iranians have had to resort to the black market for access, which not only serves to strengthen informal power structures, but can also be medically dangerous. Even relatives in the U.S. are unable to send needed medicine to family members as USPS and other postal carriers interpret this as banned by the sanctions. In a case known to the authors, a young infant suffered from an untreated Urinary Tract Infection because the necessary medication is unavailable in Iran. A family friend tried to send the medicine to Iran, but the post office would not mail the package, citing sanctions as the reason.
With businesses unable to fully function and the resulting downturn in domestic production, wages have decreased and the unemployment rate has increased. Further, this most recent escalation of sanctions threatens to increase the already high unemployment rate, as the car manufacturing industry is the second largest employer in the country.
Women have been especially affected by unemployment as available jobs go to men first. Additionally, since the escalation of sanctions, women have been banned from over 70 majors at Iranian universities, with unemployment being cited as the reason. Young people have also been blocked from leaving the country to study abroad as foreign universities have become overly cautious about admitting Iranian students and have cited sanctions as the reason. In a case known to the authors, a graduate student received a rejection letter from a university in Europe. The department chair specifically said that he wanted to extend an offer, but his hands were tied due to the sanctions.
Sanctions have also hurt the ability of progressive movements to continue flourishing. According the Iran Project report, "indirectly and even directly, U.S. policies probably already have enhanced the political power of repressive leaders and ultra-conservative factions." For example, there has been a noticeable rise in crackdowns on journalists. Sanctions limit the strength of Iranian progressives as they like others are affected by unemployment and the increased costs of basic necessities and must focus their energies on survival of their families. Banking sanctions also limit their ability to sustain themselves.
How to mobilize against the sanctions
Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions, and State Repression launched a campaign in February of this year specifically targeting banking institutions and demanding that they process financial transactions related to life-saving medicines which are covered under sanctions as humanitarian exemptions but which are currently being denied in an over-inclusive interpretation.
If you are an Iranian living in the United States or an Iranian-American, check out the recently published Iran Sanctions Economic Rights toolkit, a joint-effort among Attorney Samira Afzali, Iranian Alliances Across Borders, and the National Lawyers Guild.
To learn more about the breadth and impact of sanctions and to take action, visit Havaar.org and Rahacollective.org.
This piece originally appeared in Alternet.