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US allows tech firms to boost internet access in Iran as protesters rally

US has said it was allowing American tech firms to expand their business in Iran, one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, to boost internet access for the Iranian people.

The Treasury Department said an updated general licence issued on Friday authorises tech firms to offer more social media and collaboration platforms, video conferencing and cloud-based services. 

The updated licence also removes the condition that communications be “personal,” which Treasury said was burdening companies with the need to verify the purpose of the communications.

The Iranian government cut most internet access for its 80 million citizens during a crackdown on demonstrators protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

“As courageous Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is redoubling its support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them.”

READ MORE: Thousands gather for pro-government rallies in Iran amid mass protests

US sanctions Iran morality police after death in custody of woman

Protest crackdown

The morality police detained Amini last week, saying she didn’t properly cover her hair with headscarf, which is mandatory for Iranian women. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

At least 50 people have been killed in a crackdown by the Iranian security forces on protests that erupted following her death, an NGO said on Friday.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) NGO said the rise in the toll came after six people were killed by fire from the security forces in the town of Rezvanshahr in the northern Gilan province Thursday night. Other deaths were recorded in Babol and Amol, also in northern Iran.

There had been protests in some 80 cities and other urban centres since the demonstrations started one week ago, it added. 

Rights groups have also pointed to deaths in the northern Kurdistan region where Amini was from.

The official death toll from the clashes issued by the Iranian authorities remains at least 17, including five security personnel.

US sanctions were imposed on Thursday on the morality police and leaders of law enforcement agencies. 

READ MORE: Iran’s Raisi: US ‘trampled upon’ nuclear accord with world powers

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