The Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday seized dozens of Iran-linked websites. Pool Photo by Win McNamee/UPI | License Photo
June 22 (UPI) -- U.S. authorities have seized Iran-connected news websites the Justice Department said were spreading disinformation within the United States.
In a brief statement, the federal agency said Tuesday that pursuant to court orders it seized 33 websites used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union and three operated by Kata'ib Hezbollah, which has been designated by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
The Treasury Department, under the former Trump administration, also designated the IRTVU as a Specially Designated National in October of last for being controlled by Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, prohibiting it from obtaining U.S. services including for websites and domains, without a license.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control at that time explained the IRTVU, and other similar organizations, disguised as news organizations and media outlets to target "the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations."
The 33 websites it operated as well as the three Kata'ib Hezbollah controlled were owned by a U.S. company and neither obtained licenses to run them, which is a sanctions violation, the Justice Department said.
The semi-official Fars News Agency tweeted Tuesday that its website was among those seized.
"The U.S. Admin. Blocked Websites of Several News Agencies & TV Channels, including Press TV, Al-Masirah, Al-Alam & Al-Maalomah, on Tuesday in A Flagrant Violation of The Freedom of The Press," it sai.
The state-owned Press TV confirmed that several organizations were affected by the Justice Department's actions but did not state it was one of them.
"In what seems to be a coordinated action, a similar message appears on the websites of Iranian and regional television networks that claims the domains of the websites have been 'seized by the United States Government," it said in a tweet.
The Justice Department previously seized 27 Iran-controlled websites in November over their involvement in Iran's attempts to influence U.S. public opinion and policy ahead of that month's presidential election.
The seizure of websites on Monday came days after Iran elected hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi its new president and amid talks between the two countries to reinvigorate a Obama-era nuclear accord that then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from in 2018.
Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, told reporters during a press briefing on Monday that he expects there to be a seventh round of talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in Geneva.