Visitors to the PressTV.com and a number of other websites were greeted on Tuesday with a notice that they were seized under US 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 US Department of Justice also invokes a law governing presidential authority in dealing with “unusual and extraordinary threat; declaration of national emergency,” which includes the Iran Nonproliferation Amendments Act of 2005 and the ironically named 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 goes 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 US nor the Iranian authorities have commented on the seizures just yet. Meanwhile, the NGO Yemen Solidarity Council (YSC) condemned “the deliberate silencing of the Yemeni voice by the American regime.”
In a statement released through 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 that displayed the seizure notice on Tuesday was that of Al Forat Network, an Iraqi satellite TV outlet owned by a Shia Muslim cleric and politician Ammar al-Hakim.
Several other Shia Muslim media outlets, in places as far as Azerbaijan and Nigeria, also displayed the seizure notice on Tuesday, prompting observers to speculate the crackdown could be an attack on Shia sites, “both religious and political.”
In the absence of any official word, there has been speculation that the domains may have been hacked instead. Furthermore, the seizures appear to have affected only the .com and .net domains that are under US jurisdiction. 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 US 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.”
While the Trump administration took a hard-line approach to Iran, imposing unprecedented sanctions and even assassinating a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general – resulting in Iranian missile strikes against US bases in Iraq – it never moved against legitimate media outlets.
Back in October 2020, the Trump administration seized 92 domains accused of being “fake news” outlets waging a “disinformation campaign” on behalf of the IRGC. The seizure was overshadowed by sanctions against the Iranian banking sector announced the same day, however.
The Biden administration was thought to be open for relaxing tensions. Just last week, Iranian negotiators said they had reached a deal with their US counterparts to lift the Trump-era sanctions.