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Seizure of regional websites not free speech

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
An Iranian youth shows on his mobile phone a statement declaring the website of Iran's Arabic-language channel Al-Alam

Over 30 Iranian and regional websites have been shut down by the US Justice Department for a number of reasons including disinformation. In one fell swoop websites like were shut down.

Press TV was back online in short order with the domain name.

Why would the US make such a decision? Isn't freedom of speech one of the pillars of its so called democracy, enshrined in the Constitution, or is that just a sham phrase to be used whenever it suits them, and not when the truth is being exposed about US instigated wars and foreign policy adventures.

On Tuesday viewers trying to access Press TV's website were met with a shocking message: "This domain has been seized by the United States government".

Press TV was not the only site taken down, Iran's Arabic language Broadcasting Network, Al Alam, along with Yemen's Al Masira, faced the same problem.

Hours after the domains were seized the US Department of Justice announced as many as 33 Iranian regional websites had been blocked.

It said other domains linked to a branch of Iraq's popular mobilization units were also made unavailable.

The DOJ claimed the seizure was in accordance with US sanction laws. It hardly comes as a surprise that Washington's move created a huge backlash.

In a statement Press TV denounced the seizure of its website in the strongest terms.

International News Network Press TV deplores this measure by the FBI, which has on this occasion, targeted, along with a number of other independent media outlets, those supporting the Resistance Front. Press TV denounces the US move as a terrorist operation against the global public opinion and views it as an example of banditry and media dictatorship.

Mahmoud Vaezi, Iranian President’s Chief of Staff

The statement by Press TV accused Washington of blocking the network's domain due to its precise and substantial coverage of resistant movement activities, particularly those of the Palestinian people.

Iran's foreign ministry also condemned the seizure of the websites, saying the move was an attempt to silence, independent voices, asserting Washington's move highlighted its shameful double standards. Earlier, the Iranian government spokesperson also denounced the US measure saying it violates freedom of speech.

The latest measure by the US is against the same principles of free speech, which the country has always been proud of. That means curtailing free speech, the measure means that the US is using tools to prevent the reflection of different viewpoints to the public. The Iranian government condemns this measure.

Mahmoud Vaezi, Iranian President’s Chief of Staff

A flurry of denunciations also came from activists and social media users.

Many took to Twitter to vent their anger at what they called an attempt to stifle dissenting voices.

This is not the first time Press TV has been targeted by the West, YouTube and Facebook have taken down press TV's pages several times in the past.

The news network has also been removed from TV broadcasting satellites in Europe, North America and East Asia, largely due to the pressure from the United States, and some of its allies.

Press TV has long been used to facing hurdles in its independent journalistic work and its efforts to give a voice to the voiceless. All these obstructions only make one wonder if the declaration of support for free speech is anything more than a verbal ruse.

The notice that came from the US Justice Department says components of the government of Iran, to include the IRTVU and others like it, disguised as news organizations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations.

Why would the US Justice Department say that they were “disguised as news organizations or media outlets” while the Press TV website has been operational now for a little over 13 years.

Yes indeed, and many people in the United States, It's an English language network after all, many people in the United States read it, and they read it because they're not satisfied with the mainstream corporate owned media in the United States, that functions, largely as an echo chamber for US policy and US policy is very hostile towards Iran, it's been very hostile towards Iran and towards the Iranian people for many decades, most notably since the 1979 revolution.

But even back in 1952, when Iran dared to nationalize the British Petroleum Company, the Anglo Iranian Oil Company as it was known then.

The US was very upset with the people in Iran and so it decided to carry out a coup d’état, and thousands of Iranians were killed in a CIA British Intelligence covert operation and the democratically elected government was replaced and a monarch, the Shah was put on the throne, and the US punished the Iranian people for having a government that dared to be independent from the US or from Britain.

So this hostility and animus and arrogance directed against Iran, In this case, actually, it is also directed against the American people. We are told we're living in the free world, right that's the slogan, we're living in the free world, but don't you dare think you have the opportunity or the right to hear information coming from outside the free world and if you think you have that right, American people, we're going to snatch it from you by seizing the website that you rely on for independent alternative news.

You can't get more diabolical than this. Also I think, most importantly perhaps, the US has tried to present itself as a steward over the internet.

This demonstrates that the US stewardship over the Internet can be used as a political lever for American foreign policy, such that instead of being an independent neutral steward over the internet, it can, it can take advantage of the fact that the IP addresses and ICCAN are still basically under US control and shut down websites that the United States doesn't like.

I think this will lead to a fracturing of the global worldwide internet into regional internets because who should trust the United States to be the steward when it undoubtedly uses its stewardship for its own political ends?

Brian Becker, Answer Coalition

Press TV covers topics that US media outlets either don't cover at all, for example, the ISRAEL PALESTINE issue, or when it comes to the war on Yemen or Syria or Afghanistan. And the list is a rather long one, again topics that are not covered much.

Could the content that Press TV puts out be a factor in this decision?

It probably is a determining factor, if you ask me. Even this narrative that has been used by the United States now for a while on disinformation clarifies this as well because the information or the content of Press TV and other media that have been targeted in the Status room are disseminating is contrary to the major powerful narrative of the US government, or its foreign policy which has an imperialist and colonialist dimension particularly in Western Asia, so to that extent Press TV does offer a counter in the English language.

So it is accessible to audiences in and beyond the region, as well as in the United States and English speaking audiences [everywhere], and it pretty much contrasts and contradicts, and offers an alternative to US or Western Anglophone media, but at the same time of course, this narrative on disinformation is also very hegemonic, quite an imperialist one in itself, because the question is, Who defines what information is and what objective information is?

The United States is trying to consolidate its role as the one who is controlling the narrative, and who is attempting to silence voices in Western Asia, and to actively limit freedom of media and freedom of the press, through this very rhetoric.

Denijal Jegic, Author and Researcher

As mentioned for 13 years we've been on air, we've had the website going; we do cover topics that I just mentioned. ISRAEL PALESTINE being one of them.

But something happened; we didn't go beyond what we've been doing for the past 13 years. But something must have happened in order for them to go through 36 websites and to make a decision to close them down.

 And the only thing that really comes to mind even though we've gone through it was the ISRAEL PALESTINE war, really the Gaza, the Gaza Strip, that the war that happened.

Do you think that that maybe was a major factor, pointing towards how Israel may play a role in this?

 I'd like to give a clear answer, but the fact of the matter is that the people in the United States have been in the streets of supporting the Palestinian people during the recent confrontation there were perhaps more than a million people who participated in hundreds of demonstrations, big and small. And I think the US political climate is actually shifted in a way that's a little bit more beneficial to the Palestinians, even though the official policy, of course, is to write a blank check for the Israeli government. I'm not sure if that's the issue, I would lean more in the direction of the US government showing its muscle, and its ability to carry out very, I would say, extreme acts against Iran.

At the same moment that the Biden administration says that it wants to re enter the Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The so called Iran nuclear arms deal, and I think there's a debate going on inside the US ruling class within the US establishment over that I mean, Obama expended quite a bit of political capital when it was generally popular with the people unpopular within the establishment they have negotiated with Iran in the first place.

These are, these negotiations, even if they're sort of not direct negotiations are at a very sensitive moment.

There's been a new election of a new leadership in Iran. I think this is the, the wing of the US establishment that wants to torpedo any resumption of the JCPOA otherwise it doesn't make any sense. This is an extreme act.

This, again, going back to my first point, the US has sort of assumed the mantle-ship or the stewardship of the internet globally.

And there's an idea that goes with it, which is that the US won't use its absolute authority and power to control the infrastructure, shutdown sites, but now it has on Iran, at a very sensitive moment when the US is negotiating with Iran.

One would have to consider that whoever made this decision, was assuming that Iran would retaliate. And that instead of having any kind of rapprochement or return to the JCPOA that it would scuttle those negotiations. That's my best guess.

Brian Becker, Answer Coalition

The .com domain space has its own rules, of course, just about anybody can open up a website but the way the DOJ went about outlining its law saying that Press TV did not have permission. The US authorities knew Press TV would simply switch to its .ir domain, which is what it did within hours of the seizure.

So why did this take place at this juncture in time?

Two US intelligence officials, speaking with Time Magazine, said that Iran is stepping up efforts to sow discord inside the US.

These are the reasons that they cited this they said that there were anti Semitic Trolls inside the US, they said that Biden's effort to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal was another reason.

The April 14 announcement of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the guilty verdict of Derrick Chauvin in April 20 and the 11 day war between Israel and Hamas, these were other reasons.

They all play a role but as you mentioned, the shift of the domain from to which happened rather swiftly just shows the United States must have been aware of that.

So I think that you have taken to consideration, the impact of public relations, I mentioned in here, where the United States is maybe engaging is just another provocation or showing the power that it has for trying to shift narrative of course, ending to this very long anti Iranian sentiment that there has been in US political discourse, as well as the mainstream media discourse.

The events that you mentioned, of course, do play a role because Press TV has reported on these, and has offered an alternative point, particularly when it comes to the, to the events in Palestine took place last month, where, again, another point I would like to mention is where we have seen scenes of the Zionist regime which is a major US ally and proxy in the region,  harassing and assaulting journalists live on camera.

Besides imprisoning many Palestinian journalists all over Palestine. So, in many ways the narrative that is being presented by the Biden administration does not make sense in itself. But I think that as you mentioned all of them played a role effectively in this sort of diplomatic conflict in the United States.

Denijal Jegic, Author and Researcher

Of the many tweets on the subject one which stands out was from activists Rania Khalid who said the most powerful country in the world with 1000 military bases is so scared of Iranian media websites, already suppressed by every algorithm that exists, that it has shut them down, and that she says is pretty pathetic.

Rania Khalid is right. I mean this in a way, demonstrates the weakness of America, where American people have the opportunity to go to a Press TV website; It's not dominating American media but it exists.

And so there's an alternative point of view on Palestine, on US Iran relations, on the Middle East, on what's going on in Lebanon, and the American government is telling the American people: We don't want you to watch this, we don't want you to read this. We're concerned that if you read this, that somehow, our fragile democracy is in fact so fragile that this "disinformation" will sort of shake us to the core.

I mean, it's a real demonstration of weakness by a society and by a government that says, “Follow us. We are the model, we allow all points of view to be presented”.

 The First Amendment says Congress shall pass no law that inhibits or prohibits the expression of media. That's in the First Amendment, the first one, not the second, not the third, the first, the very first thing, and so we as Americans are taught to cherish the First Amendment.

But here you don't have the Congress passing a law, you just have the executive branch of the government acting with dictatorial power in an unconstitutional way, on a spurious basis, a false basis, to seize a website with the hope, the idea, that Americans won't know that they can go to press instead

Again, it's a it's a sad day for America. It's a very sad day for the First Amendment. And it's a demonstration of American weakness not strength.

Brian Becker, Answer Coalition

Might this not also backfire on the US when it comes to the message that is sends, because it shows the US restricting the freedom of speech which is enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution?

That may at least contribute to raising the attention or raising awareness of what is what is happening, at the same time we shouldn't forget that many of the major US media outlets have themselves some anti Iranian trolls, for so long, including language, oftentimes, and very, very undifferentiated men are reproducing at least parts of the language, of the syntax, that has been used by the State Department which has been demonizing Iran for decades now.

At the same time of course, Iran has been constructed, as a threat to such an extent that it  may just be easy to to continue this narrative and we've seen similar, I think the scope of our narrative of disinformation has been rather prominent within the political discourse within the United States, but has also served some sort of patriotic and nationalist goals, because it is an inherent part of this extra territorial US violence in Western Asia is being used to further imperialist, colonialist, policies that effectively, the public communication of media freedom is, it's pretty much suppressed within, within that framework.

And I think the disinformation narrative has also been, to some extent, void when it comes to the foreign policy towards Russia, where it has been quite successful and has been replicated in the US mainstream media so wouldn't this solely rely on Western media, calling out that violation of freedom of the press.

Denijal Jegic, Author and Researcher


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