U.S. Should Re-impose Sanctions on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting

U.S. Should Re-impose Sanctions on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting

Saeed Ghasseminejad, Richard Goldberg
11th July 2018 - FDD Policy Brief

President Trump this week must decide whether the State Department will continue waiving congressional sanctions against the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the primary propaganda organ of the clerical regime. Enacted in 2012 as part of the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act, the sanctions require the president to designate IRIB for perpetrating serious human rights abuses and to enforce secondary sanctions against any company connected to it.

While the text of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), contained no mention of IRIB, the Obama administration began waiving sanctions against it in early 2014 while negotiating the accord. The concession emerged from an agreement with the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, an intergovernmental organization that establishes rules for satellite providers: In exchange for the the U.S. waiver of IRIB sanctions, Tehran would cease jamming other satellite providers in Iran. The Trump administration has continued the practice of waiving IRIB sanctions every six months.

Much has changed, however, since the Trump State Department last waived IRIB sanctions in January. Following America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA in May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a strategy of maximum political and economic pressure on the Islamic Republic to achieve a wide range of behavioral changes. The Treasury Department designated IRIB chief Abdulali Ali-Asgari “for restricting or denying the free flow of information to or from the Iranian people.”

Just last week, IRIB broadcast the forced confessions of Iranian Instagram personalities whose supposed crime was teaching followers how to dance. Among the forced confessions was that of 19-year-old Maedeh Hojabri, dubbed the “dancing girl” by social media. An IRIB website also published pictures of protesters on its Twitter account, asking its followers for their identities so that security forces could arrest them.

IRIB’s deceptive propaganda and its crucial role in Tehran’s repression have spurred many Iranians to ask President Trump to stop waiving sanctions against it. These include prominent Iranian human rights advocates such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, whose husband was once a victim of a forced confession. Last week, 57 Iranian dissidents asked Secretary Pompeo to re-impose the sanctions. Iranian social media is trending #BanIRIB – a digital plea to the Trump administration to end the waiver.

Re-imposing sanctions on IRIB would significantly support the administration’s maximum pressure strategy against the the clerical regime. It would prohibit satellite companies and other technical service providers from selling their goods and services to IRIB. In so doing, the sanctions will significantly reduce IRIB’s capacity to produce and broadcast its content.

In this context, the administration should also consider using its terrorism authorities to designate media outlets affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s praetorians, to further isolate Iran’s terror-media activities. The Bush administration established the precedent for this action by designating media controlled by Hezbollah and Hamas.

Just as oil is the lifeblood of Iran’s economy, IRIB and other state-run media are the lifeblood of the regime’s propaganda. Cutting off this flow should be a top priority of the U.S. government. All it takes is political will.

Saeed Ghasseminejad is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor. Follow them on Twitter @SGhasseminejad and @rich_goldberg.

Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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