US seizes websites of Iranian state-backed news outlets

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The Iranian flag is seen in this June 10, 2021, file photo.

The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it had seized more than 30 websites used by Iranian state media, citing sanctions that prohibit the organizations from obtaining services in the U.S.  

The agency said in a press release that the move applied to 33 websites used by the Iraniam Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), and three run by Kata’ib Hezballah “in violation of U.S. sanctions.” 

The department said that last October, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had labeled IRTVU as a “specially designated national” for being owned and operated by the Iranian government, thus requiring a special OFAC license to operate in the U.S.

The websites operated by Hezbollah were seized because the group has been labeled by the Department of State as a terrorist organization, the DOJ said Tuesday. 

The Associated Press had reported earlier Tuesday that Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency identified a series of news websites linked to the  government in Tehran that were taken offline, claiming that they had been seized by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). 

Notices that included the seals of the FBI and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security were posted on multiple websites informing visitors that they were seized “as part of law enforcement action.” 

The websites affected included Iranian state television’s English-language arm Press TV, the Yemeni Houthi rebels’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel and Al-Alam, the Iranian state TV’s Arabic-language channel, according to the AP. 

Marzieh Hashemi, an anchor for Press TV who was born in the U.S., told the AP that the organization was aware of the seizure, but that no additional information had been given to the outlet. 

“We are just trying to figure out what this means,” Hashemi said. 

The move comes just days after the Iranian presidential election win of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, who on Monday said that he did not plan to meet with President Biden, adding that Iran’s ballistic missile program is “nonnegotiable.” 

Biden has been looking to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, from which former President Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018. 

Since the U.S. withdrawal, Iran has ignored the limits under the deal, now enriching uranium at 60 percent, which are its highest levels yet but still well below weapons-grade. 

Raisi said Monday that relief from international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program is “central to our foreign policy” and called on the U.S. to “return and implement your commitments” as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. 

The DOJ under the Trump administration announced in October that it had seized 92 domains that it said were used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to spread disinformation and propaganda. 

The following month, the DOJ said it had seized 27 additional domain names that the guard corps “unlawfully used to further a global covert influence campaign,” it said in a press release at the time.

Tags 2015 nuclear deal Department of Commerce Department of Justice Donald Trump Iran Iran nuclear agreement Iran president Joe Biden News websites State media The Associated Press web domains

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