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US government seizes 36 websites connected to Iran

The United States government on Tuesday seized 36 websites connected to Iran for violating sanctions, the Department of Justice stated in a press release. The seized sites include 33 websites used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and three websites operated by Kata’ib Hizballah (KH).

English-language Press TV and Arabic-language Al-Alam TV, both Iranian state-owned news channels, are among those whose US-based domains were seized. The move comes a few days after Iran elected Ebrahim Raisi as president. He has since taken a hard line towards the US and ruled out the possibility of meeting with President Biden or negotiating over Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency called the move “a violation of the freedom of the press.” Meanwhile, Press TV notified its followers on Twitter that its website will be available on a .ir domain. Al-Masirah, the channel run by Yemen’s Houthis, also re-established its website using a .net domain.

Why were these websites seized?

Last October, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated IRTVU as a Specially Designated National (SDN) for being owned or controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRG). This was done because the US had reasons to believe that IRTVU disguised itself as a news organisation and targeted the US with “disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations,” the release stated. In the same month, the US seized nearly 100 domains connected to Iran for spreading propaganda. The US accused Iran of sowing discord among American voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Following the SDN designation, IRTVU was prohibited from obtaining services in the United States without approval from OFAC. The 33 websites seized yesterday were owned by a US company and operated by IRTVU without any approval.

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KH has also been an SDN since 2009, and it is also designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. KH is “an Iraqi terrorist organization that committed, directed, supported, or posed a significant risk of committing acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces,” the release stated. The three domains operated by KH were also owned by a US company and did have approval from OFAC.

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