Reed Elsevier, one of the largest international academic journals, has instituted a “zero tolerance policy” for American employees handling Iranian manuscripts.
U.S. sanctions against Iran have been taken to a new level, with recent limits on academic journals handling Iranian manuscripts and papers. The sanctions could have a chilling effect on free speech and academic discourse, as exemplified by the recent announcement from Reed Elsevier, a major British-Dutch publisher, that it would capitulate to U.S. demands and limit the scope of its interaction with Iranian scientific publications.
Reed Elsevier, one of the largest international publishers of academic journals, didn’t place an outright ban on the publication of Iranian articles but has instituted a “zero tolerance policy” prohibiting its American employees from handling Iranian manuscripts. Though most employees at Elsevier are not American, the company has some American employees who work for the company’s English-language publications.
The decision follows the passage of legislation in the U.S. Congress last year prohibiting this type of interaction. The U.S. Office of the Treasury clarified the law’s new regulations in March, setting the table for the current declaration by Reed Elsevier.
The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), charged with overseeing economic sanctions, also advises managers to “reject outright” any manuscripts from Iran if they can’t find a non-American employee to handle them. It is unclear what penalties Reed Elsevier and others would incur for violating this policy, but journal editors could be held personally accountable to the U.S. government for handling Iranian manuscripts and academic materials in a manner considered illegal by Washington.
Representatives from Elsevier have tried to assuage concerns, noting that the ban would likely affect only a small volume of the material they publish.
“The sanctions do not apply to manuscripts from academic and research institutes and manuscripts originating from non-governmental clinical settings, such as hospitals [or] clinical practices,” writes Elsevier spokesperson Harald Boersma in an email to Science Insider.
“This means that the sanctions only apply to a very small part of research papers coming out of Iran. Our recent communications with editors were motivated out of concern that U.S. citizens acting as editors of our journals might also be subject to personal liability.”
These types of laws limiting interaction with Iranian academia are nothing new. In 2004, the U.S. government tried to ban all American scientists from having anything to do with any Iranian research, threatening to prosecute individual scientists for “collaboration” with Iran if they did so.
The proposal was openly rejected by the American Institute of Physics and other groups, claiming that it is violated freedom of speech. The strong public pressure forced elected officials to scrap the plan in favor of a toned-down version.
Many Iranians and Western human rights organizations have also criticized the broader set of economic sanctions targeting Iranian exports, including oil. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), reported last month that Iranian oil exports have fallen to a 26-year low as a direct result of international sanctions.
Many of Iran’s 80 million civilians have also been hurt by the ongoing U.S. and European sanctions. According to opinion polling conducted by Gallup in February, 48 percent of Iranian adults say that their livelihoods have been personally affected by the sanctions.
The prices of many common consumer goods have doubled or tripled in the past year and hospitals are reporting shortages of critical medications for patients suffering from life-threatening ailments. Last year, the Iranian Hemophilia Society informed the World Federation of Hemophilia that the lives of tens of thousands of children are being endangered by the lack of proper drugs as a consequence of international sanctions.
Sanctions in all forms continue to be a salient issue of debate for Iranians as they prepare for upcoming presidential election next month. The vote marks a critical juncture-the end of the turbulent Ahmadinejad era.