US authorities have seized a range of Iran’s state-linked news websites, which they accused of spreading “disinformation” on Tuesday, a US official said, a move that appeared to be a far-reaching crackdown on Iranian media amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
The US government official, who spoke on Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the case had not yet been officially announced, said the US had effectively taken down roughly three dozen websites, the majority linked to Iranian disinformation efforts.
Notices appeared on Tuesday on a number of Iran-affiliated media websites saying they had been seized by the United States government as part of law enforcement action.
Iranian news agencies said the US government had seized several Iranian media websites and sites belonging to groups affiliated with Iran, such as Yemen’s Houthi movement. Some of the sites later started to display as normal.
The website of the Arabic-language Masirah TV, which is run by the Houthis, read: “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 quickly opened up a new, working website.
Iran’s Arabic language Alalam TV said on its Telegram channel: “US authorities shut down Al-Alam TV’s website.”
Notices also appeared on websites of Iran’s English-language Press TV and Lualua TV, an Arabic-language Bahraini independent channel which broadcasts from Britain.
“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,” Press TV said on Twitter.
The notices appeared days after Ebrahim Raisi, a prominent hardliner and fierce critic of the west, was elected as Iran’s new president and after envoys for Iran and six world powers including Washington adjourned talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear accord and returned to capitals for consultations.
It’s not the first time that the US has seized domain names of sites it accuses of spreading propaganda.
In October last year, US prosecutors seized a network of web domains they said were used in a campaign by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to spread political disinformation around the world.
The US Justice Department said at the time 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 south-east Asia.
The semi-official Iranian news agency YJC agency said on Tuesday the US move “demonstrates that calls for freedom of speech are lies”.
With Reuters and and Associated Press