President Barack Obama said his administration will help Iranians pull back the electronic curtain their government has placed on the Internet and communications with a virtual embassy.
In a video message marking the Iranian New Year holiday of Nowruz, Obama said the Iranian people's ability to connect with others in their country and throughout the world was a basic freedom that was being denied.
The United States will continue to draw attention to the electronic curtain that is cutting the Iranian people off from the world, Obama said. And we hope that others will join us in advancing a basic freedom for the Iranian people: the freedom to connect with one another, and with their fellow human beings.
The virtual embassy the Obama administration launched in December has been a clearing house of news and information on the U.S., its sanctions and world events inaccessible from Iran's official media. Obama also took the occasion to announce guidelines to make it easier for American businesses to bring Iranians software and services that increase access to the Internet, despite U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Obama also alluded to last year's Arab Spring movement that used social media to organize and garner support for protests that ended the decades-long rule of several Middle Eastern strongmen.
Over the last year, we have learned once more that suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away, Obama said. Like people everywhere, [Iranians] have the universal right to think and speak for themselves.
On Internet freedom, the Iranian government is among the most repressive regimes in the world.
According to Freedom House, a democracy advocacy group, Internet speed was curbed during the 2009 Green Movement protests against allegedly fraudulent elections; social networking and media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Flickr were banned in 2010; and a strict filtering system was instituted.
The regime also keeps knocking down Iranians' attempts to circumvent government control of the Internet, forcing Iran's web surfers to find new ways to get around barriers once their methods are discovered, Freedom House said in a report.
Obama said the Iranian government in recent weeks has instituted severe restrictions on communications with family and friends within the country or elsewhere.
Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them, the president said. The people of Iran should know that the United States of America seeks a future of deeper connections between our people -- a time when the electronic curtain that divides us is lifted and your voices are heard.