Websites for PressTV, Two Other Media Outlets 'Seized by US Government'

Websites for PressTV, Two Other Media Outlets 'Seized by US Government'

The US Department of Justice has seized Iranian domains before, claiming they were part of a "disinformation campaign," and US-based social media corporations like Twitter and Google have persecuted Iranian news outlets for years, but the wholesale seizure of a major Iranian news agency's website is new.

Two of the websites, Al-Alam and PressTV, are owned by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Iran's state media corporation. PressTV is an English-language news service, but Al-Alam is broadcast in Arabic and Persian in addition to English. However, another, Al-Masirah, was founded in 2012 Beirut, Lebanon, by Yemen's Ansarullah movement, also known as the Houthis. According to AP, the news site Palestine Today, which reports from a pro-Hamas point of view, was also seized.

"The domain has been seized by the United States Government in accordance with a seizure warrant issued pursuant to 18 USC §§981, 982 and 50 USC 1701-1705 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 PressTV's website reads. The messages on all the websites, including for other languages, are identical, save for the name of the outlet.

The sections of US law cited by the notice are for civil forfeiture; criminal forfeiture; Unusual and extraordinary threat; declaration of national emergency; and the exercise of Presidential authorities.

The authenticity of the claims made by the messages are presently unclear, meaning they could also have been hacked.

“I would point you to the Department of Justice, I understand they will have more information to add later today,” US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday. The DOJ told Sputnik it would soon have more to add on the seizure.

According to a US official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, the US had seized roughly three dozen websites, the majority of which ae linked to what the AP called "Iranian disinformation efforts."

At least some of the websites appear to be visible to some people outside the US, including in the UK, Australia, even in the southwestern United States. However, others on Twitter claiming to be from those countries have said they got identical messages.

The Iranian domain for PressTV and Al-Alam, and, have remained accessible. It appears just the .com and .net domain addresses have been shut down.

PressTV issued a brief statement on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, saying only that "In what seems to be a coordinated action, a similar message appears on the websites of Iranian and regional television networks that claims the domains of the websites have been 'seized by the United States Government.'"

​This isn't the first time many of these outlets have come under attack online. In October, Twitter summarily suspended Al-Masirah's account without giving justification except a vaguely worded claim the account had violated their terms. In January, Facebook deleted the main page of PressTV without warning or explanation, only to restore it several hours later following an appeal by the news agency.

In October 2020, the DOJ seized 92 domain names it claimed were "unlawfully used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to engage in a global disinformation campaign." They claimed the websites were in violation of both US sanctions against Iran and the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). An image included in the DOJ's news release at the time shows a notice almost identical to those on the websites shut down Tuesday.

This comes just days after presidential elections in Iran, in which Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative politician and the country's chief jurist, handily won. While direct talks between Raisi and US President Joe Biden seem off the menu at the moment, negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are continuing. The US left the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, and in response Tehran began to reduce its commitments to low uranium output made under the deal.

On Monday, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price told reporters the Biden administration regarded the elections as "pretty manufactured. This was not a free and fair election process." Tehran replied that the US doesn't have the bearing to comment on other countries' elections, an action they said amounted to meddling.


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