The US has taken down dozens of Iranian and Iran-linked news sites which it accuses of spreading disinformation.
The sites were replaced on Tuesday with notices saying they had been “seized” as part of a law enforcement action. They included Iran’s state-run English-language channel, Press TV.
Several were back online within hours with new domain addresses.
Iran criticised the seizures and warned that they were “not constructive” for talks aimed at reviving a nuclear deal.
The US Department of Justice said in a statement that it had seized 33 websites used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and another three run by the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia in Iraq in violation of US sanctions.
The sites had been used by components of the Iranian government “disguised as news organizations or media outlets” to target the US “with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations”, it alleged.
The justice department said IRTVU was subject to sanctions because it was owned or controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US designated as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2019.
The domains IRTVU was using were owned by a US company and it had not obtained a license from the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control prior to using them, it added.
Kataib Hezbollah is also a US-designated foreign terrorist organisation.
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The websites were not accessible on Tuesday afternoon, with the statement on Al-Alam’s website reading: “The domain alalamtv.net 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.”
Notices also appeared on some of Iran’s Press TV websites, the Iranian government’s main English-language satellite television channel, and Al Alam, its Arabic-language equivalent.
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State broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) accused the US of repressing freedom of expression and joining forces with Israel and Saudi Arabia “to block pro-resistance media outlets exposing the crimes of US allies in the region”, AFP news agency reported.
Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement confirmed that a domain of its news channel, Al-Masirah TV, had been blocked. Iran supports the Houthis – who control much of western Yemen and are battling forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government – but it denies providing them with weapons.
Al-Masirah accused the US of carrying out “an act of piracy… without any justification or even prior notice”, and said it reserved the right to sue the US government for “this illegal confiscation”.
Lualua TV, an Arabic-language Bahraini independent channel that broadcasts from the UK, was also taken down.
Most of the domain names seized were .com, .net and .tv addresses. The .com and .net addresses are generic domains and are not specific to a particular country. The .tv domain is owned by the Pacific nation of Tuvalu but is run by the US firm Verisign.
The seizure of another country’s top-level domain – such as Iran’s .ir – could potentially be seen as a violation of sovereignty.
“We are using all international and legal means to act accordingly, to condemn this action and to expose to the public this mistaken policy of the United States,” the director of the Iranian president’s office, Mahmoud Vaezi, told reporters on Wednesday. “It does not appear to be constructive when talks about a deal on the nuclear issue are under way.”