TEHRAN – The US Department of Justice seized 36 areas of Iran-related news websites on Tuesday, accusing them of spreading disinformation, amid continuing tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The Justice Department said 33 of the seized websites, owned by a US-based company, were being used by the Islamic Radio and Television Union of Iran (IRTVU), which it said was part components of the Iranian government targeting the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations.
Three other seized websites were operated by one of the main Iraqi militias aligned with Iran, Kata’ib Hezbollah, which more than ten years ago was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, added the department’s press release.
According to the statement, the IRTVU was named as a so-called “specially designated national” (SDN) for being owned or controlled by the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards in October. The department said that SDNs are prohibited from obtaining services, including website and domain services, in the United States without a license. The IRTVU did not obtain a license before using the domain names, he said.
The department said the domains operated by Kata’ib Hezbollah were also owned by a US company, and the organization also did not obtain a license before using the domain names.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency called the seizures an “illegal act” and “terrorist policy” against independent media, while Iranian President Mahmoud Vaezi’s chief of staff told reporters on Wednesday that he condemned them. seizures.
On Tuesday, notices of seizures began appearing in English and Arabic on a number of Iran-affiliated websites. The official language of Iran is Persian.
The seized websites included Press TV, the Iranian government’s main English-language television channel, and Al-Alam, its Arabic-language equivalent.
Both still had a banner on their home page Wednesday morning, saying they had been seized by the US government. But they were back online using Iranian domain addresses Alalam.ir and Presstv.ir.
Similar notices also appeared on the website of Laluua TV, an Arabic-language Bahraini news channel that broadcasts from the UK, and Masirah TV in Yemen, run by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
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This is not the first time the United States has seized the domain names of sites it accuses of spreading disinformation.
Last October, the Ministry of Justice announced the withdrawal of nearly 100 websites used by the Revolutionary Guards. He said the sites, operating under the guise of actual media outlets, were waging a “global campaign of disinformation” to influence US policy and spread Iranian propaganda around the world.
Tuesday’s seizures come just days after hardline Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s new president and as world powers try to resuscitate the 2015 nuclear deal.
Relations between Iran and the United States have deteriorated for years after President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the return of devastating sanctions.
In his first press conference on Monday, the newly elected Raisi ruled out a meeting with President Joe Biden or any limits to Tehran’s ballistic missile program.
Yuliya Talmazan reported from London, Ali Arouzi from Tehran.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed.