U.S. authorities have seized several Iranian state-linked news website domains, accusing the sites of spreading “disinformation.”
The U.S. move on June 22 affected roughly three dozen websites, according to news agency reports quoting unidentified sources. The seizure has not been officially confirmed, but the sources said an announcement was expected.
The Iranian state-linked websites that abruptly went offline include state television’s English-language Press TV, as well as the Yemeni Huthi rebels’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel and Iranian state television’s Arabic-language channel, Al-Alam.
The notices said that the websites were seized “as part of law enforcement action” by the Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement, which is part of the U.S. Commerce Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said the websites taken offline were seized by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The website of Masirah TV, which is run by the Huthis, reads:
“The domain almasirah.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.”
The site later opened a working website at www.almasirah.com.
Notices have also appeared on websites of Iran’s Press TV and Lualua TV, a Bahraini independent channel which broadcasts from Britain.
Press TV’s website later appeared to work normally, even running a news alert about the seizures.
Iran’s Arabic language Alalam TV said on its Telegram channel: “U.S. authorities shut down Al-Alam TV’s website.”
Most of the domains seized are top-level domains ending in .net or .com. A seizure of country-specific domains ending in Iran’s .ir designation likely would result in international condemnation as a violation of sovereignty.
It is not the first time that the U.S. has seized domain names of sites it accuses of spreading disinformation around the world.
Last October, U.S. prosecutors seized a network of web domains they said were used in a campaign by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The U.S. Justice Department said then that it had taken control of 92 domains used by the IRGC to pose as independent media outlets targeting audiences in the United States, Europe, Middle East, and Southeast Asia.
The recent takedowns come as world powers negotiate the restoration of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and after the election victory Ebrahim Raisi. The hard-line conservative, who won nearly 62 percent of the vote in the June 18 election, will take office in early August.
Raisi said on June 21 that he backs discussions to revive the deal regulating its nuclear sector but draws the line at holding direct talks with U.S. President Joe Biden.