The US Department of Justice announced yesterday (Tuesday) that it seized 33 domains linked to Iranian media organizations and took them offline, as their operations constituted a violation of American sanctions. The majority of the sites were used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), and three were operated by militia group Kataib Hezbollah.
The IRTVU was added to the American blacklist of Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) last October because it is under the control of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, a statement by the Department of Justice said, pointing out that entities on the list are barred from receiving services, including internet services, in the US, unless they obtain a special permit. "Components of the government of Iran, to include IRTVU and others like it, disguised as news organizations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations," the statement said.
Sites operated by Kataib Hezbollah – an Iraqi Shiite militia established by the Quds force that conducts violent operations against the American presence in the country – are in this category, with the State Department having designated the militia as a foreign terrorist organization, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) having added the organization to its blacklist in 2009. The Department of Justice statement mentioned that "the three domains operated by (the militia) were owned by a United States company. (The militia) did not obtain a license from OFAC prior to utilizing the domain names."
The websites that were taken offline include those of Press TV, an Iranian channel that broadcasts in English that is known in Israel for its reports from the Golan Heights, as well as the websites of Houthi-operated Al-Masirah, Al-Alam which reports from Iran in Arabic, and dozens more, broadcasting in various languages to a various target audiences. At the moment, each of the seized websites' landing pages only shows the statement shown in the above picture.
According to a report by Arab News, some of the websites resumed operations using other domains that were quickly set up with the extension ".ir" instead of ".com". Shahrokh Nazemi, Head of the Press Office of the Permanent Mission of Iran to the United Nations in New York, said that the US was trying to muzzle free speech. “While rejecting this illegal and bullying action, which is an attempt at limiting the freedom of expression, the issue will be pursued through legal channels," Nzemi was quoted by Iranian Mehr news agency
It should be pointed out that it was not the first time for the U.S. government to take over Iranian websites. Last October, for example, it took over 92 sites belonging to the Revolutionary Guard.
The American move comes amid flailing attempts to revive the Iran nuclear agreement, which are undergoing continuous difficulties. The latest round of negotiations in Vienna ended a few days ago, without progress. While the US officially claims there is no target date to complete negotiations - the Biden administration is quite keen on reaching an agreement, and the various delays are creating a great deal of frustration.
Another factor that further complicates the situation is the newly-elected Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi (the hangman from Tehran), an anti-West conservative who was elected after eight years of reformist Hassan Rouhani. In his first speech as president, Raisi declared that he will not meet with President Biden, and that his country's ballistic missile project as well as the Iranian support for regional militias is nonnegotiable.