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Customer says Apple Store wouldn’t sell him an iPad because he spoke Farsi

by David Needle

June 21 2012

A TV news station in Atlanta reports some customers at a local Apple Store there have been unable to buy an iPad because of fear the device might end up in Iran.

WSB-TV interviewed two customers who said they were denied the right to buy an iPad or an iPhone after store personnel heard them speaking Farsi.

U.S. law does prohibit the export of products to certain countries where a trade embargo is in place, including Iran, but the customers in question say they are U.S. citizens and said nothing about Iran or plans to ship or bring the devices there. 

The news station interviewed two customers on camera who said they experienced the same problem at two different Atlanta Apple Stores. Sahar Sabet, a 19 year-old student at the University of Georgia who already owns other Apple products, said she walked out of the store in tears.

She said she was prevented from buying an iPad after a store employee heard her talking in Farsi to her uncle who was with her. “I just can't sell it to you, our countries have bad relations,” she quoted the store employee as saying.

Another customer, Zack Jafarzaddeh, went to an Apple Store with a friend from Iran visiting the U.S. on a visa. 

“We never talked about him going back to Iran, we were just speaking. 

Bobak Arabian, an Iranian-American and a U.S. citizen living in California, called Apple's apparent policy unenforceable.

"This policy by Apple is foolish and unenforceable in practice. What's to stop anyone from just buying Apple products online?," Arabian told TabTimes.

"Also, what other nationalities are included under Apple's policy? For example, are Apple Store employees instructed to not sell products to customers who are speaking Korean? How would they know if the customers are North or South Korean?," he continued. "Do Apple Store employees have to be trained on telling the difference between someone speaking Farsi versus Arabic or Urdu? It becomes a silly exercise once you stop and think about it seriously."

Apple Store references Export Compliance policy

The news channel sent a reporter back to the store and taped the same employee repeating Apple policy not to sell to anyone from Iran. A store manager then showed the station a copy of Apple’s Export Compliance policy that says the exportation sale or supply from the U.S. to Iran of any Apple goods is strictly prohibited without authorization by the U.S. government. 

But it’s not clear the policy states store personnel should assume anyone from a foreign country in question should not be allowed to buy Apple products locally. Both Sabet and Jafarzaddeh, who’s from Virginia, said they feel they are victims of racial profiling. 

Later Sabet reportedly said she called someone in Apple’s customer relations who said she could purchase the products online. 

WSB-TV said a U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed it’s illegal to travel from the U.S. to Iran with a laptop or satelite cellphone without government authorization, but “wasn’t familiar with Apple enforcing that law.” 

The President of the National Iranian American Council posted an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook demanding the company end its “discriminatory policies.” 

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