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OFAC Seemingly Against Apple's Anti-Iran Bias

Despite broad prohibition under the unilateral US sanctions, nothing legally prohibits American entities including Apple from hosting Iranian apps The targeting of startups and developers have left Iranian application companies completely bemused. Social media users in unusually big numbers have taken to Twitter condemning the move by Apple using the hashtag ‘Stop Removing Iranian Apps’
 
T he Office of Foreign Assets Control, the US Treasury Department’s financial intelligence watchdog says Apple is not prohibited from hosting Iranian applications.
 
In an unscrupulous move on August 19 Apple Inc. removed applications of several Iranian companies from its iOS App Store. In response to an Iranian developer’s inquiry on the matter in an official email seen by Financial Tribune, OFAC wrote:
 
Despite the lifting of some secondary sanctions as a result of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in general, the exportation by US persons of most items, technology, and services remains prohibited under the point 560.204 of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR).
 
However, the email further states, "Despite broad prohibitions, there are certain types of items and activities that US persons are authorized to engage in related to software and those categories of activities and items which can be found under the US Treasury’s General License D-1." 
 
The Financial Tribune has gone through the document. According to the official literature, Apple is not prohibited from hosting Iranian software products on App Store.
 
OFAC’s email came in response to a request for information by Amir Zandi, a developer of food ordering app Dayan. 
 
He told the Tribune that “Immediately after receiving a notice from Apple that Dayan has been removed from App Store, I contacted OFAC.”
 
While Apple’s move has disrupted businesses of several Iranian startups, Google, another American business, is hosting Iranian apps on its Google Play service.
 
The OFAC email also said that in case the Iranian developers do not succeed in convincing Apple to bring back their software products back to the App Store, they can apply for exemption from the US government.
 
More specifically it writes, "if the software you are proposing to export does not fall within the category of the items and/or activities any of the activities of any of the general licenses, the company would need to apply for a specific license to export the item. 
 
Latest Developments
 
Update
 
In a petition signed “Iranian residents of the global village” local startup owners, app developers and iPhone users have requested CEO of Apple Inc. Tim Cook to stop removing Iranian apps.
 
Started on August 24 on change.org, the petition has attracted some 5,000 signatures so far.
 
Since August 19, Apple has gradually removed most applications related to Iran from its iOS store.
 
The apps which initially were removed were Delion (food delivery service), DigiKala (retailer), AloPeyk (parcel delivery service), Takhfifan (group buying website), and Alibaba (online travel agency).
 
Over the Iranian weekend, several other applications have also been removed including Tap30, Snapp (two ride-hailing apps), Hamloo (parcel delivery service) and Reyhoon (food delivery service).
 
Divar, Netbarg and Aparat so far continue to be listed on the iOS application store. 
 
CEOs of the businesses have received an email from Apple, which reads as follows:
 
“We are unable to include your app on the App Store. Under the US sanctions regulations, the App Store cannot host, distribute, or do business with apps or developers connected to certain US embargoed countries.”
 
The statement further adds “This area of law is complex and constantly changing. If the existing restrictions shift, we encourage you to resubmit your app for inclusion on the App Store.”
 
Now a VPN is Needed
 
Since August 24, Iranian users are not able to download any software program from App Store without using a VPN.
 
Official literature published by OFAC in 2012 (and in effect since then) reads:
 
“In order to further ensure that the sanctions on Iran do not have an unintended chilling effect on the ability of companies to provide personal communications tools to individuals in that country OFAC is providing illustrative guidance on the scope of the personal communications general license.”
 
Social Impact
 
The targeting of startups and developers have left Iranian application companies completely bemused. 
 
Moreover, social media users have taken to Twitter condemning the move by Apple using the hashtag “Stop Removing Iranian Apps.”
 
Iran’s Telecoms Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi has censured the move by Apple saying “Apple iPhones have an 11% share of Iran’s smartphones market.”
 
According to estimates 6 million Iranians have an iPhone.
 
Jahromi said “Respecting consumer rights is a principle that Apple has disregarded,” adding “The ministry will exhaust all possible legal means to remove the problem.”

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