US Seizes Iranian-Run Websites

On Tuesday the United States seized 33 websites run by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and three websites operated by Kata’ib Hizballah (an Iraqi militant group) that have been operating in violation of sanctions.

The Americans say that IRTVU and other Iranian government-run organisations were disguised as news organisations or media outlets and have ‘targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations.’

On Wednesday, simple statements that the ‘domain has been seized by the United States Government’ greeted visitors to leading Iranian media sites like Press TV and Al-Alam, which are Iran’s main English language and Arabic language broadcasters. It was the same for visitors to the Al-Masirah TV channel of Yemen’s Houthis.

US website capture noticeThe notice that appeared on the seized websites.

All of Iran`s news stations are reported to be run by its government, potentially denying Iranians any independent sources of news. The BBC reports that satellite dishes are also illegal in Iran – although many can be seen around the country. Iranian police have sometimes used cherry pickers to search for them and crush any that they find.

Iranian media organisations have accused the United States of censorship in this latest move – ironic in the circumstances.

Tehran warned on Wednesday that this seizure of websites was “not constructive” for negotiations on bringing Washington back into the landmark nuclear deal. Mahmoud Vaezi, director of the President’s Office, told reporters:

“We are using all international and legal means to ... condemn ...
this mistaken policy of the United States.”

Tensions between the US and Iran have increased following the election of Ebrahim Raisi to take over as president in August. He is a hardliner whom the Israelis call ‘the hangman of Tehran’ due to his involvement in condemning to death thousands of Iranian political dissidents and prisoners.

The Israelis are most concerned by the prospect of him becoming Iran’s president and are lobbying the US strenuously over their attempts to resume the joint nuclear agreement with Iran. In his first press conference on Monday, Raisi referred to those ongoing nuclear negotiations and said:

“Regional matters and missile matters are non-negotiable.”

He also said on Monday that his support for the nuclear talks is conditional upon the achievement of his country’s demands, insisting that any negotiations must achieve results:

“America has violated the nuclear agreement and Europe has not implemented its commitments,
and Washington must lift sanctions and return to its commitment under the nuclear agreement.”