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U.S. authorities have seemingly seized the web domains of Iran’s international media outlets Press TV and Al-Alam, along with the Yemeni TV channel Al Masirah, run by the Houthis, and an Iraqi Shia satellite channel.
Visitors to the three domains on Tuesday encounter a notice that they were seized under U.S. laws that allow civil and criminal forfeiture of property involved in “trafficking in nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological weapons technology or material, or the manufacture, importation, sale, or distribution of a controlled substance.”
The seizure notice by the Department of Justice also invokes a law authorizing presidential authority in dealing with “unusual and extraordinary threat; declaration of national emergency,” including the Iran Nonproliferation Amendments Act of 2005 and the Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006.
Launched in July 2007, Press TV is the international English-language service of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Tehran’s state media agency. Al-Alam dates back to 2003 and is broadcast in Arabic, Farsi, and English to audiences in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Al-Masirah is not owned by Iran, but by Ansarullah – the movement of the Houthis in Yemen, a faction the US has accused of being “proxies” of Iran on account of them being Shia Muslims and resisting the invasion of Yemen by Saudi Arabia since 2015. The TV channel is headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon.
Neither the U.S. nor the Iranian authorities have commented on the seizures yet. Meanwhile, the NGO Yemen Solidarity Council (YSC) condemned “the deliberate silencing of the Yemeni voice by the American regime.”
In a statement released by the YSC, Al Masirah said it was “not surprised” by the apparent seizure, as it “comes from those that have supervised the most heinous crimes against our people.”
The "ban" on the website “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,” the outlet said.
PressTV only said that a seizure message has appeared "on the websites of a series of Iranian and regional television networks" in "what seems to be a coordinated action."
Another site with the seizure notice on Tuesday was the Al Forat Network, an Iraqi satellite TV outlet owned by a Shia Muslim cleric and politician, Ammar al-Hakim.
Without any official word, there has been speculation that the domains may have been hacked. The seizures appear to have affected only the .com and .net domains that are under U.S. jurisdiction, and PressTV remains available at the .ir domain.
Washington’s apparent move comes just a day after the newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi urged the U.S. to lift all sanctions on Tehran and rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, negotiated by the Obama administration but unilaterally repudiated by President Donald Trump in 2018.
Raisi called on the US to “live up to your commitments” in the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He also said the Iranian ballistic missile program was “not up for negotiation.”
The Trump administration took a hard-line approach to Iran, imposing unprecedented sanctions and even assassinating a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general – resulting in Iranian missile strikes against US bases in Iraq – yet it never acted against media outlets. The Biden administration was thought to be more willing to relax tensions.
Last week, Iranian negotiators said they had reached a deal with their U.S. counterparts to lift the Trump-era sanctions.