WASHINGTON — The US Senate has approved funds for measures to help Iran's opposition defeat curbs on news and Internet social networking sites it has used to organize since a disputed presidential vote.
Lawmakers, some of whom have charged the Islamic republic's June 12 election was rigged, approved the legislation late Thursday without dissent amid widespread US criticism of Tehran's crackdown on opposition demonstrators.
Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman and Democratic Senators Ted Kaufman and Robert Casey were the lead authors of the Victims of Iranian Censorship (VOICE) Act.
"As this cruel regime works to close off Iranian society, the VOICE Act, by providing assistance for broadcasting and new Internet and communications technologies, will help to open it up," said McCain.
The measure calls for providing 30 million dollars for expanding Radio Free Europe-backed Farsi-language radio broadcasts into Iran, to be used to try to counter Iranian government efforts to jam radio, satellite, and Internet-based transmissions.
The funding would also go to try to overrun the Iranian government's efforts to block access to websites or text messages over cell phone networks.
Another 20 million dollars would go to create a special fund to develop ways for Iranians to get access to and share information, and counter Tehran's "efforts to block, censor, or monitor the Internet in Iran."
"Now is the time to come to the aid of the Iranian people," said Graham. "We must deny the regime the tools they desperately need to continue repressing their own people."
The legislation also calls for a report from President Barack Obama on non-Iranian companies, including those with US operations, that have aided Iranian Internet censorship efforts.
And it calls for five million dollars for the US State Department gather and make public information about human rights in Iran, including any abuses since the June 12 election.
Lieberman said the legislation's goal was to "help the Iranian people stay one step ahead of their regime, in getting access to information and safely exercising freedom of speech, assembly, and expression online."
Iran's government "infringed on the universal principles of freedom of expression and press," said Kaufman.
"Our bill supports the Iranian people as they take steps to peacefully express their opinions and aspirations and seek access to news and means of communication, especially over the Internet," he said.
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