The U.S. Department of State has placed sanctions on four Iranian individuals and five Iranian entities for the country's harsh treatment of bloggers, journalists and online activists.
The department announced the sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities -- otherwise known as governmental bodies or private companies -- for "having engaged in censorship or other activities that prohibit, limit, or penalize freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran, or that limit access to print or broadcast media, including by jamming international satellite broadcasts into Iran, and related activities."
In addition, the department says "countless" activists, journalist, lawyers, students and artists have been detained, tortured and denied their human rights.
The sanctioned agencies include Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the Iranian Press Supervisory Board, and the Center to Investigate Organized Crime which helps "identify Internet users who published material insulting government officials," according to the AFP.
Iranian Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Reza Taghipour, is charged as the person responsible for ordering satellite television broadcast signal jamming and restricting access to the Internet.
Access to Gmail was temporarily removed in Iran this year as an "involuntary" consequence of trying to reinforce the censorship of Google's video-sharing website YouTube.
"Unfortunately, we do not yet have enough technical knowhow to differentiate between these two services. We wanted to block YouTube and Gmail was also blocked, which was involuntary," Mohammad Reza Miri, a member of the telecommunications ministry committee said. "We absolutely do not want YouTube to be accessible."
The department says that the move will prevent American businesses from trading or working with the sanctioned individuals and entities. In addition, each individual and member of the government agencies or private firms are banned from visiting the United States.
Government officials say that the sanctions are aimed at drawing worldwide attention to Iran's practices of censoring their citizens. In addition, the department wishes to prevent the Iranian government from creating an "electronic curtain" which cuts the Iranian general public off from the rest of the world.