On November 4, 2020, the US Department of Justice announced the seizure of 27 domain names that were illegally used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in violation of US sanctions. According to the seizure affidavit, the IRGC used the domains to support an Iranian propaganda campaign that spread disinformation in the US and around the world, in a covert attempt to influence US policy and public opinion related to Iran and the Middle East.
The DOJ reports that the IRGC’s use of the domains for pro-Iranian propaganda, violated the International Emergency and Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), which prohibits US persons and entities from providing services to the Government of Iran without a license. The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also imposed additional licensing requirements when it designated the IRGC in 2017. According to seizure documents, the domains were registered and owned by US-based registries, but the IRGC and the Government of Iran failed to obtain licenses from OFAC prior to using the domains and related services from US providers. In addition, four of the domains – “rpfront.com,” “ahtribune,com,” awdnews.com,” and “criticalstudies.org” – violated the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), for targeting US audiences without proper registration, and failing to display a conspicuous label disclosing that its content was published on behalf of foreign principals pursuant to FARA.
These domain name seizures come approximately one month after the DOJ’s seizure of 92 domain names from the IRGC on October 7, 2020.