TEHRAN (Iran News) – In a coordinated campaign of seizure, the United States has blocked the domain of several Iranian official news websites as well as regional media outlets close to Iran. The move drew criticism from free speech defenders who called the U.S. move a muzzling of freedom of expression.
Late on Tuesday, the websites of a number of Iranian news media outlets, most notably the English-language Press TV and the Arabic-language Al Alam, as well as regional media outlets close to Iran, were blocked with a message showing that the websites were seized by the government of the United States.
“The domain presstv.com has been seized by the United States Government in accordance with a seizure warrant…as part of a law enforcement action by the Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the message on Press TV website read.
The websites of Iran’s Arabic-language Al Kawthar television network, Yemen’s al-Masirah TV channel and Bahrain’s Lualua television network were also among the targeted outlets.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the matter and referred it to the Justice Department, which later issued a statement confirming the seizure of Iranian websites. The statement alleged that the targeted websites were used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union and Kata’ib Hizballah of Iraq.
“Today, pursuant to court orders, the United States seized 33 websites used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and three websites operated by Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), in violation of U.S. sanctions,” the statement said.
In an echo of the Trump administration’s allegations against Iran’s news organizations, the Justice Department accused IRTVU and others like it of being “disguised as news organizations or media outlets” and targeting “the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations.”
“Thirty-three of the websites seized today were operated by IRTVU. The 33 domains are owned by a United States company. IRTVU did not obtain a license from OFAC prior to utilizing the domain names. Three additional websites seized today were operated by KH,” the statement continued.
It added, “These website seizures were investigated by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and the FBI. The National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the seizure. Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division; Special Agent in Charge J.C. (Chris) Hacker, of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Ariel Joshua Leinwand, of the Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement’s Atlanta Office, made the announcement. The National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section is investigating this matter in coordination with the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Atlanta Field Office.”
This is not the first time that the U.S. targets Iranian news organizations or media outlets allegedly affiliated with Iran. Under Trump, the U.S. seized dozens of websites operated by Iranian entities or non-Iranian groups. Among these websites, was the Fars News.
Press TV has also been targeted many times by U.S. social media and internet services companies. Technology giant Google has targeted Press TV at least seven times, blocking the English-language news network’s access to its official YouTube account without any prior notice.
“We have reviewed your content and found severe or repeated violations of our Community Guidelines. Because of this, we have removed your channel from YouTube,” Google told the Iranian broadcaster in a message in late March after blocking its access to YouTube.
Over the past years, the U.S. tech giant has recurrently been opting for such measures against Iranian media outlets. It has taken on Press TV more than any other Iranian outlet given the expanse of its viewership and readership, according to Press TV.
Analysts believe the U.S. move against Iranian news organizations reflects a sense of American failure in suffocating the Iranian narrative. Ben Norton, an American journalist and commentator, has called the U.S. seizure of Iranian websites “another attack on freedom of press and speech.”
In an interview with Press TV, Norton described the U.S. move as “desperation to control a narrative that Washington has lost control of.”
“It’s incredible to see that while the U.S. government is accusing other countries of supposedly violating press freedoms, it’s actually seizing the property of foreign media outlets and not just Iranian but also Yemeni. This is rather incredible because of course there’s so much propaganda and fake news and dehumanization in the Western media. The U.S. government claims for instance that the IRGC is a terrorist organization, which is an absurd designation. This is a major violation of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. And it’s especially ironic coming from a government that … even carries out a cruise in the name of defending freedom of speech and democracy and civil liberties when it is actually violating them pretty egregiously,” Norton said.
He added that the claim that Press TV and other media outlets are supposedly disseminating disinformation is laughable on its face. “When the U.S. government says disinformation what it really means is information that Washington doesn’t like. And we’ve seen the U.S. government use this talking point to censor outlets not only abroad but also at home. It’s a desperation to control a narrative that Washington has lost control of,” Norton continued.
Iran condemned the U.S. move against Iranian news websites, calling it “illegal” and “bullying.”
An Iranian official at the United Nations called the U.S.’s move to block Iranian websites illegal and said, “This issue will be pursued through legal channels.”
Rejecting the U.S. “illegal and bullying”, the Iranian diplomat told IRNA on Tuesday that the move was an attempt to restrict freedom of expression.
Mahmoud Vaezi, the Iranian president’s chief of staff, accused the U.S. of pursuing double standards in terms of dealing with freedom of expression.
“They always have a double standard, that is, they observe the issue that pertains to themselves and their friends, but what pertains to other countries and Islamic countries, they have a double discriminatory approach,” Vaezi told reporters on Wednesday.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry also reacted to the U.S. seizure of Iranian websites. Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, in response to the seizure of Iranian media websites belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Radio and Television, called the move a “systematic attempt by the United States to undermine global freedom of expression and silence independent voices in the media.”
The spokesman called it shameful for Washington to continue these double standards, adding that the current U.S. administration is following in the footsteps of the previous U.S. administration, which will only lead to a double defeat for Washington.
At the end of his statement, Khatibzadeh emphasized that “the Islamic Republic of Iran, while rejecting this illegal and bullying action, will pursue the issue through legal channels.”
A leader of Yemen’s Ansarallah also reacted to the seizure, saying it showed that the message has been delivered.
Mohammad Ali al-Houthi, a member of the Yemeni Ansarallah political bureau, in response to the U.S. move to close several official Iraqi, Yemeni and Iranian websites, stressed that the move reflects the influence of these networks.
In a tweet on Tuesday, al-Houthi said the U.S. seizure of these websites shows that their message has been received and that these outlets have made an impact, and that free media frightens regimes claiming to defend freedom of expression.
He added that this move also shows the falsehood and superficiality of American democracy and proves that America acts on the principle of comprehensive confrontation and is the example of the verse of the Qur’an which says to comprehensively fight the polytheists as they fight comprehensively.
Yemen’s Al Masirah website was among the outlets targeted by the latest wave of U.S. seizures. Ansarallah reactivated the Al Masirah network a few hours after it became unavailable using another domain.