Arseh Sevom — No more pencils, no more books for students of Coursera living in sanctioned countries. This week, the online education service, Coursera, was blocked in Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba as a result of US sanctions law prohibiting services to those countries. One professor sent a letter to his students expressing his frustration with the law, stating:
“Few things illustrate the bone-headedness, short-sightedness, and sheer chauvinism of the political structure of the United States better than the extent to which its ideologues are willing to go to score cheap domestic political points with narrow interests in the pursuit of a sanctions regime that has clearly run its course.”
Global Voices has more on the effects of the block on students in Syria. They quote the remarks of one Syrian student who wrote:
Someday, the war will end, and we will come back to our homes and our former lives to contribute to the reconstruction process in our country. To do so, we need to learn new skills, and this could only be achieved through continuing education.
Coursera is working with the US Government to re-establish service in the blacked countries. In a comment on Facebook Coursera wrote:
“…we are taking every step necessary to work with the government to restore access. In fact, just today, we restored access to Syria, with more to come soon. Thank you!”
A US Treasury spokeswoman states:
“While we will not comment on specific licenses, generally speaking, OFAC has a long history of licensing U.S. academic and educational institutions to engage in exchange programs in third countries as well as to provide certain in-country and online academic and educational training programs in the past.”
We hope to wake up tomorrow morning to news that service has been restored in all the sanctioned countries. In the words of one of our favorite civil society activists, “Information is like jewelry.”
Do your part to lift the pain of sanctions on Iranian families.
Dear Catherine Ashton:
We, the undersigned, are concerned about the effects the implementation of sanctions are having on average Iranians. We are particularly concerned that items that are not sanctioned, such as medication and humanitarian goods are not reaching the people in Iran.
This is a time of great suffering in the region. We want to ensure that we are not further contributing to the suffering because of the denial of access to a payment channel for humanitarian items. We know the intention of the sanctions is to put pressure on Iran’s ruling elite. We worry that this is not the reality.
The brunt of the suffering falls on women and children and the most vulnerable in society. They suffer the consequences in very real ways. They lose their incomes, their homes, and their access to life-saving medication. Some of this suffering can be alleviated by facilitating the seamless implementation of the existing humanitarian exemptions. These include financial transactions related to medications, basic needs, and other items that are currently not sanctioned.
We ask the European Union to create a payment channel to accept transactions from Iran. This channel should be closely scrutinized. This will allow much needed financial transactions for medications and basic needs to take place.
It is crucial at this time when the people of Iran are desperately trying to make their own voices heard that we show we are listening. They went to the polls in an attempt to show their own government that they wanted reform and better relations with the outside world. We need to show we are listening.
Please help to avert a humanitarian disaster. Allow Iranians access to the international banking system to purchase medications and humanitarian goods.