Obama targets Iranian and Syrian high-tech secret police | News | DW | 24.04.2012
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Obama targets Iranian and Syrian high-tech secret police

Washington has said it will target agencies, firms and individuals that help Damascus and Tehran to digitally track activists. Meanwhile, the EU is tightening economic sanctions against Syria, as violence continues.

In a speech to commemorate the Holocaust, US President Barack Obama on Monday announced sanctions aimed at undermining the intelligence activities of the Iranian and Syrian governments.

Obama said the measures targeted individuals, government agencies and private firms that provide technological assistance to Damascus and Tehran in the tracking of opposition activists via the internet and cell phone networks.

The actions were announced as activists in Syria reported that up to 28 civilians had been shot dead by government forces in streets of the city of Hama, further calling into question claims that the regime is honoring a ceasefire as advance UN monitors visit the country.

The US president reflected upon the extent to which democracy activists have relied on social media tools to assist with organization of their protest movements.

"These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them," Obama said in an address at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The US Treasury is set to apply the first of the new measures - including asset freezes and visa restrictions - against Iranian and Syrian intelligence agencies, Syria's state-controlled mobile phone company Syriatel, Iranian internet provider Datak Telecom and several individuals.

Widening of measures further afield

The organizations affected by the measures do not include foreign entities, such as the Chinese ZTE Corp, which recently sold a powerful surveillance system to Iran's largest telecoms business, Telecommunication Co. of Iran.

The move also raises the question of whether the US would ever broaden the measures to target other countries with tight controls on Internet access, such as China.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the current focus was on the most obvious "bad actors" Iran and Syria. However, he added, "these are not the only regimes that oppress their people or use technology to do it."

In his speech, Obama also announced the formation of an Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), which would report to the White House on the possibility of genocide, war crimes, or other mass atrocities across the globe, as well as possible options to prevent them.

Surrounded by Holocaust artifacts at the museum, Obama spoke of the international community's obligation to prevent the "madness" of mass killings.

Brussels targets business classes

Meanwhile on Monday, the EU banned the sale to Syria of luxury goods and products that can have military uses as well as civilian ones, a move primarily aimed at regime supporters in the country's business community.

In this image made from amateur video released by the Shaam News Network and accessed Sunday, April 15, 2012, a building is on fire following purported shelling in Homs

The UN claims that Syria's cease-fire compliance remains incomplete

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the 27 foreign ministers of the EU approved the new set of sanctions "because of deep concern about the situation and continuing violence in spite of the cease-fire."

"We expect the government to withdraw all troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities (and) we want to make sure that the regime gives full access to humanitarian organizations."

On Monday, UN Under-Secretary General B. Lynn Pascoe said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's compliance with a cessation of hostilities "remain incomplete," adding that "human rights violations are still perpetrated with impunity."

The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in violence since an uprising against Assad's regime began 13 months ago.

rc/av (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)