Moral Low Ground


Apple Store Denies Iranian-American Teen Sahar Sabet iPad for Speaking Farsi

A suburban Atlanta teen, her uncle and a friend shopping for Apple products at a local mall were turned away after a store employee heard them speaking Farsi.

WSBTV reports that 19-year-old Sahar Sabet, an Iranian-American from Alpharetta, Georgia, wanted to purchase an iPad. Her friend was after a new iPhone. But neither of them were able to buy the high-tech items because an Apple Store employee at the North Pointe Mall in Alpharetta told them them that bad relations between the United States and Iran precluded the sale.

“He said, ‘I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations,'” Sabet said of the Apple sales representative after he learned she was speaking Farsi with her uncle.

Sabet described the experience as “very hurtful” and “very embarrassing.”

“I actually walked out in tears,” she told WSBTV.

Apple said it was only following official US policy. There is, of course, nothing prohibiting Apple or any other company from selling products to American citizens like Sabet. But the US has slapped politically-motivated trade sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and companies and their employees face harsh civil and criminal penalties for selling products to customers who they have reason to believe will export items to Iran.

“If I walked in and told them I want to buy this and send it to a friend in Iran or Cuba, they can’t sell it to me,” Cliff Burns, a Washington, DC export control attorney, told MSNBC.

Individuals face fines of as much as $250,000 and up to five years behind bars for violating sanctions. Companies can be fined as much as $1 million.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on low-ranking store-level employees.

Still, Sabet feels that she was unfairly discriminated against. Returning to the Alpharetta Apple Store with a WSBTV reporter, she was told by a store manager that the exportation, sale or supply from the United States to Iran of any Apple product is strictly prohibited without US government authorization, the teen said:

“Discrimination. Racially profiled. He didn’t have any business asking me what country I was from.”

Zack Jafarzadeh, an Iranian-American from Virginia, told WSBTV that he had a similar experience when he attempted to help a friend purchase an iPhone at an Apple Store in the Perimeter Mall just outside Atlanta. His friend was from Iran but living and studying in Georgia.

“We never talked about him going back to Iran or anything like that,” he explained. “He was just speaking full-fledged Farsi and the representative came back and denied us our sale.”

“I would say if you’re trying to buy an iPhone, don’t tell them anything about Iran,” Jafarzadeh advised. “That would be your best bet.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) responded to last week’s incident by calling on Apple to change its policy.

“Apple must revise its policies to ensure that customers do not face discriminatory treatment based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said.

“If the actions of these Apple employees reflected company policy, that policy must be changed and all employees retrained.”

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) accused Apple of “overzealously enforcing” sanctions.

“In singling out Persian-speakers for interrogation about how they intend to use Apple products, these Apple employees are clearly engaging in racial profiling,” the group said in a statement.

Nahal Iravani, president of the Iranian-American Bar Association, told MSNBC that having store clerks enforce sanctions “invites profiling.”

“The responsibility for enforcement should fall on border patrol, law enforcement, the US post office, customs– government agencies,” she said. The current situation “promotes dishonesty and invites profiling. When you come down to it, it’s absurd.”


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