This morning, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the conflict in Syria had reached "new and appalling heights of brutality and violence," as the clashes between government troops and opposition forces drag on. An estimated 40,000 people have died in the conflict, which began in March 2011. The Assad regime continues to periodically block Internet access in the country, something the U.S. State Department has condemned.
But Syrian government websites have still been available, because many of them have been hosted by U.S. companies. In fact, until yesterday, SANA, the official Syrian state news agency, was hosted by SoftLayer, a Dallas-based company, the New York Times reported.
As you might imagine, that's not really O.K. with the State Department.
According to the Times:
An executive order by President Obama prohibits American companies from providing Web hosting and other services to Syria without obtaining a license from the Treasury Department.
On Thursday, State Department officials confirmed that providing the services was a violation of the United States sanctions. "Our policies are designed to assist ordinary citizens who are exercising their fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association," a spokesman, Mark C. Toner, said.
A SoftLayer spokesperson wouldn't comment specifically on the Syrian news agency to the Times; however, he did tell the paper that the company rigorously enforces "prevailing laws and regulations and acts swiftly and vigorously if we find our users to be in violation."
The SANA website is now down; a number of other American companies hosting Syrian government sites also appear to have hastily shut them down after receiving calls from the Times.
SANA continues to spread their version of events on Twitter. It's not yet clear whether SoftLayer or any of the other companies involved will face penalties for violating U.S. sanctions.