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Are you Siri-ous? Rights groups blast Apple after Farsi speakers denied iPads

Apple iPad 2 Release

Apple employees cheer as the iPad 2 goes on sale at The Grove Apple store in Los Angeles Friday, March 11, 2011.AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

An Iranian-rights group sent an open letter to Apple on Tuesday, blasting the company for reportedly denying Farsi-speaking Americans across the country the right to buy iPads simply because of the language they speak.

The incident began last week in Alpharetta, Ga., where 19-year-old U.S. citizen Sahar Sabet claims she was turned down when she tried to purchase the tablet computer, according to a WSB-TV Atlanta report. Zack Jafarzadeh from Virgina claims he had a similar experience at a nearby store in Atlanta. 

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), claimed there were other incidents in California and Virginia -- he declined to provide more details -- and that Apple policies supporting sanctions against Iran were leading to discrimination.

"These are legal residents, on American soil," he told FoxNews.com. "As Americans we are outraged, and every American would be outraged."

Much of the attention centers on the Atlanta incidents, where store employees told WSB-TV Atlanta that they were simply upholding U.S. regulations that prevent export of goods to Iran. One employee reportedly captured on an iPhone video by the station even cited Apple's export policy, which specifically prevents sale of technology to the Middle Eastern country. Awad believes that law doesn't apply to Sabet's case.

'As Americans we are outraged, and every American would be outraged.'

- Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

"She did not say that she was going to send the stuff anywhere," Awad told FoxNews.com. "She was just overheard speaking Farsi. They said, so we can't sell it to you."

An Apple spokesman questioned that version of the story, given the diverse nature of the company's customer service representatives.

"Our retail stores are proud to serve customers from around the world, of every ethnicity. Our store teams are multilingual and diversity is an important part of our culture," Steve Dowling told FoxNews.com. "We don't discriminate against anyone."

And a report by a group calling itself The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans supports Apple's take on the Alpharetta incident, concluding that Apple’s refusal to sell the product was not based on discrimination. The company is legal obliged to prevent sales if a product's ultimate destination is Iran.

But CAIR, the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties advocacy group, says Apple's policy is misapplied. The group joined forces with several other rights group, including the Asian Law Council and the ACLU, to write an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

"We understand that Apple's official company policy ... is almost verbatim taken from the Iranian Transaction Regulations (ITR), specifically 31 C.F.R. § 560.204, and is in line with U.S. economic sanctions targeting Iran. However, at issue here is the correct application of that policy by Apple's employees," the letter reads.

"Apple's official company policy regarding U.S. sanctions law may have the potential to lead to discrimination against U.S. persons for the simple reason that they are descendants of a sanctioned country," the group wrote.

Awad told FoxNews.com his group met with company executives last week to present their case, and heard Apple's arguments in favor of the policy.

"We believe Apple executives should take a serious look at this and revise it, and offer better training for their representatives," Awad said.

"We all agree that what happened was wrong," he said.

Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.