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US Silent on Ousting Iran’s Sanctioned FM Zarif From Social Media

This article originated in Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, who heads the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard attends a graduation ceremony of a group of the guard’s officers in Tehran, Iran, June 30, 2018.Instagram suspended the account of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), on April 16, a day after the Trump administration designated IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).A State Department notice said it is unlawful for a U.S. person “to knowingly provide material support or resources” to a designated FTO, and defines “material support or resources” to be “any property … or service.”“For detail on the legal requirements specific to access (that) FTOs and SDNs have to social media services, I would direct you to OFAC or the U.S. State Department,” Otway wrote.Possible violationMark Dubowitz, chief executive of Washington-based policy institute Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA Persian that he believes Facebook and Twitter both are violating U.S. sanctions by providing services to Zarif, a sanctioned person.“Zarif should be immediately expelled for legal reasons — not to mention moral reasons for using a platform (Twitter) that he and his regime deny to other Iranians,” Dubowitz said in a message.Iran uses digital filters to block people from using Twitter and other Western social media platforms and messaging services, but it allows the use of Instagram. Many Iranians still have been able to access blocked services by using anti-filtering tools.It was not immediately clear if there is an informational exception in the sanctions program under which Zarif was designated that would allow him to keep his Twitter and Instagram accounts. Many U.S. sanctions programs carve out exceptions for designated people to engage in various types of information sharing, such as those involving noncommercial social media expression, news reports, books, articles and movies.Section 1 of the June 24 executive order said its prohibitions apply “except to the extent provided by statutes, or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order.” The Treasury Department also did not respond to a question about whether such exceptions apply to Zarif’s U.S. social media accounts.“I could see Facebook and Twitter having some pretty good debates out in California about how to handle this one, because you can make a pretty good case on either side of it,” said Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution foreign policy research director, in a VOA Persian interview. “My guess is that it is actually in a gray area that is going to require some judgment and perhaps even some disputes between those companies and the U.S. government before all is said and done.”

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