The United States seized 33 websites used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and three websites operated by Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), in violation of U.S. sanctions.
On Oct. 22, 2020, 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 (IRGC), a Justice department announcement said Tuesday.
SDNs are prohibited from obtaining services, including website and domain services, in the United States without an OFAC license. OFAC’s announcement explained that components of the government of Iran, to include IRTVU and others like it, disguised as news organizations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations.
Thirty-three of the websites seized today were operated by IRTVU. The 33 domains are owned by a United States company. IRTVU did not obtain a license from OFAC prior to utilizing the domain names.
Three additional websites seized today were operated by KH. On July 2, 2009, OFAC designated KH and SDN, and the Department of State designated KH a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The announcements described KH as an Iraqi terrorist organization that committed, directed, supported or posed a significant risk of committing acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.
OFAC further explained that the IRGC provides lethal support to KH and other Iraqi Shia militia groups who target and kill Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The three domains operated by KH were owned by a United States company. KH did not obtain a license from OFAC prior to utilizing the domain names.
These website seizures were investigated by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and the FBI. The National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the seizure.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Thursday the seizure of the websites of Iranian and regional television networks is a blatant violation of human rights. He described the move as a "systematic attempt by the U.S. to undermine global freedom of expression and silence independent voices in the media.”
Moving to (dot).ir domain
Press TV was back online under a new domain, PressTV.ir within hours of the ‘seizure.’ Al-Alam TV also quickly announced that its website will be available on .ir domain. Al-Masirah TV established a new website, swapping the .net domain for .com, Fars News reported.
It is likely that other affected media outlets would follow suit, in resurfacing under a new domain extension.
Fars News said that among the websites 'seized' were Palestine al-Youm, a Palestinian-directed broadcaster, Karbala TV – the official television of the Imam Hussein (PBUH) shrine in the holy Iraqi city of Karbala, Iraqi Afaq TV, Asia TV and al-Naeem TV satellite television channels, as well as Nabaa TV which reports the latest stories about Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.
In March, Google for the seventh time blocked the English-language news network’s access to its official YouTube account without any prior notice, citing "violations of community guidelines," the Tasnim report said.