Smartphone (illustration)
Smartphone (illustration)Israel news photo: Flash 90

The United States on Thursday eased some of the sanctions it has imposed on Iran, lifting a ban on sales of communications equipment to Iranians and opening access to Internet services and social media, Al Arabiya reports.

The sanctions were lifted in a bid to help the Iranian people avoid government controls.

The U.S. State Department said the action will allow Iranians to skirt “attempts to silence its people by cutting off their communication with each other and the rest of the world,” according to Al Arabiya.

The decision means U.S. companies are allowed, effective immediately, to begin selling computers, tablets, mobile phones, software, satellite receivers and other equipment for personal use to Iranians. Such sales had previously been banned under sweeping sanctions on the country.

Sales and free provision of Internet communications like instant messaging, chat and email, social networking, sharing of photos and movies, web browsing, and blogging will also be allowed, the U.S. government said.

Recent reports indicated that Iran has been tightening control of the Internet ahead of next month’s presidential election, the regime being mindful of violent street protests that social networkers inspired after the last elections over claims of fraud.

Meanwhile, reported Al Arabiya, the U.S. also issued sanctions against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s deputy chief of staff and more than 50 other Iranian government officials for alleged human rights abuses.

The sanctions target an Iranian intelligence unit responsible for blocking information and senior Khamenei aide Asghar Mir-Hejazi.

Mir-Hejazi is culpable in violent crackdowns on Iranians, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, according to Al Arabiya.

The United States recently said that Iran is trying to obtain high-tech materials linked to its nuclear program, in violation of UN sanctions.

On Wednesday, Canada ratcheted up its sanctions against Iran, adding 30 individuals and 82 entities to an economic blacklist and banning almost all exports to and imports from the country.

Iran's Finance Minister recently admitted that international sanctions against his country had pushed inflation above 30% and were causing "a lot of trouble".

At the same time he stressed that Iran's nuclear drive would not be halted.