The US Justice Department has seized scores of websites affiliated with the Iranian government and allied movements which were, it says, hosted on US-owned domains in violation of sanctions.
The websites include Iran's state-owned English language news website PressTV and the Arabic-language Al-Alam, in addition to Yemen's Houthi-affiliated news site Al-Masirah, three sites belonging to Iraq's Kataeb Hezbollah and the Bahraini opposition channel's Lualua TV, described as the kingdom's first independent TV station.
A seizure notice was displayed on PressTV and 35 other websites explaining that they had "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."
🔴 Press TV's website will be available on .ir domain.https://t.co/5RFLgcwFvP
— Press TV (@PressTV) June 22, 2021
Several websites belonging to Shia Muslim media outlets were also affected by the seizure. They included the UK-based Ahlulbayt TV, "the first exclusively English-language Shia Islamic television channel".
*STATEMENT BY AHLULBAYT TV* pic.twitter.com/V3pAp41R00
— Ahlulbayt TV (@AhlulbaytTV) June 23, 2021
In a statement on Twitter, the channel said that it had not received any legal correspondence from any government or regulatory body and will be seeking clarification from Britain's media watchdog, Ofcom. Shia affiliated websites in other countries such as Azerbaijan and Nigeria also displayed the seizure notice.
Reuters reported that some of the websites were back online within hours, including Press TV and Al-Alam, using Iranian domain addresses. However, the move has been criticised as hypocrisy on the part of the US which promotes its principles of freedom of speech and press freedom.
Imam al-Redha (a) said, "The trustworthy will not betray you, while you place your trust in the betrayer."
لم يخنك الأمين, ولكن إئتمنت الخائن
The US once again shows its fear of freedom of speech, fear of criticism and its hypocrisy toward the principles of civilisation. pic.twitter.com/Fd1OhLfOqO
— Sheikh Jaffer Ladak (@jafferladak) June 22, 2021
Al-Masirah said that it was "not surprised" by the seizure, as it "comes from those who have supervised the most heinous crimes against our people." It added that the ban "reveals, once again, the falsehood of the slogans of freedom of expression and all the other headlines promoted by the United States of America, including its inability to confront the truth."
Tehran also condemned the decision. "We are using all international and legal means to… condemn… this mistaken policy of the United States," the director of the president's office, Mahmoud Vaezi, told reporters. "It appears to be far from constructive when talks for a deal on the nuclear issue are underway."
Last year, the US Department of Justice announced that it had taken down nearly 100 websites linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that were accused of waging a "global disinformation campaign" to influence US policy while promoting Iranian propaganda. Despite being a branch of Iran's military, the IRGC was designated as a foreign terrorist organisation by former US President Donald Trump in 2019.