in a surprise On Tuesday, the US government confiscated more than 30 web domains linked to Iranian governmentand disable access to many state-backed media. US officials said the action stems from terrorist disinformation Distributed to websites and violating sanctions. But press freedom advocates warn that the removals have much broader implications for both free speech rights and foreign relations.
The affected websites included English, Arabic, Press TV and Al-Alam outlets, among others, such as the Houthi-affiliated Al-Masirah channel. They were all run by the Islamic Radio and Television Union of Iran. The Ministry of Justice also removed three sites linked to the Iraqi paramilitary group Kata’ib Hezbollah, which has Iranian support. The move extends a controversial precedent set by the Trump administration, which has made it even more concerned by the seemingly disjointed and uncoordinated nature of the process.
“It’s not really clear why the US government is acting in these specific locations and why now, or what their standard of intervention is,” Evelyn Dweck, a scholar at the Knight Institute for the First Amendment at Columbia University and a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “One of the basic principles of freedom of expression rights is that government restrictions on expression must be transparent and justified, and this is not happening to the extent required.”
The operation comes as the Biden administration attempts to negotiate with Tehran, including President-elect Ibrahim Raisi, over Iran’s nuclear program and support for proxy militias across the Middle East. But the website domain takeovers seemed poorly coordinated, with access to the site going up and down for hours. Notices on the home pages of the affected sites stated that the domain had been confiscated by the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, the Office of Export Law Enforcement, and the FBI. However, other parts of some sites initially continued to operate. The Department of Justice had not previously approved or confirmed the initiative hours after web users began noticing the effects.
“Elements of the Iranian government… posing as news agencies or media outlets, have targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations,” the Justice Department wrote late Tuesday in a statement. statement. “33 of the sites seized today have been operated by IRTVU.” The Department of Justice went on to say that 33 domains were purchased through a US registrar, but that IRTVU has not obtained a license from OFAC to do so – putting the sites in violation of sanctions.
process was كانت Not the first time US government agencies targeted State-backed Iranian news websites. But domain spells can only disrupt the service for a long time, and sites usually return with a modified URL. Press TV quickly said on Tuesday that it did he moved From “.com” to “.ir” address, which will not be managed by a US domain registrar.
Nargis Baghli, assistant professor of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
US-based social media companies have struggled to deal with Iranian disinformation campaigns on their platforms and have done so. increasingly focused on Removals To reduce the impact on users. The Ministry of Justice has previously Worked with Google, Facebook and Twitter To track Iranian websites and spread misinformation. In 2020, the Trump administration conducted domain confiscations on the .com editions of Fars News Agency, Iran Daily, and Dozens of other fields which US officials have said is being used to spread illicit disinformation. The Department of Justice did not say whether it had worked with social media companies in this week’s round of removal.