Biden Waives Sanctions on Iran's Chief Propaganda Arm

State-run outlet helping regime censor, distort massive protest movement

Protesters gather to demonstrate against the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran on September 23, 2022 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
February 22, 2023

The Biden administration waived sanctions on Iran's state-run news arm, even as the hardline regime uses the outlet to distort and underreport its murder of dissidents and fuel sham trials against protesters.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken waived sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) channel, the regime’s chief propaganda outlet, on Feb. 15, according to a non-public notice transmitted to Congress and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The waiver allows the IRIB to conduct financial transactions as it disseminates propaganda and helps the hardline regime quash nationwide protests that threaten to topple Tehran’s clerical regime. The waiver comes less than a month after the Biden administration lifted sanctions on Iranian and Russian nuclear cooperation.

This is the first time these sanctions have been lifted since a wave of nationwide protests erupted across Iran, drawing a violent crackdown from the regime. While the sanctions were first waived as part of the 2015 nuclear deal and throughout the Trump administration, the Biden administration’s decision to reissue the waivers is generating pushback from regional experts in light of the IRIB’s role in helping the Iranian regime censor the uprisings.

"The IRIB is an important part of the regime's oppression machine," Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank told the Free Beacon. It is in charge of disseminating propaganda and disinformation and works closely with the regime’s security services, which have cracked down on protesters and murdered dozens in recent months.

The IRIB "broadcasts false confessions taken under torture, dehumanizes dissidents, and engages in character assassination of the regime's critics to facilitate their physical elimination either through execution or assassination," Ghasseminejad said. The network also "facilitates human rights violations by other organizations and violates human rights themselves."

In one instance that generated scrutiny among the Iranian dissident community, IRIB footage was reportedly used to help the regime convict several Iranians accused of beating down a member of its security forces. The individuals were handed a death sentence after being tortured in prison and facing what observers called a sham trial.

Ghasseminejad described the State Department’s decision to waive sanctions as "an abomination."

The sanctions waiver provides exemptions for anyone doing business with the IRIB, providing it access to global telecommunications infrastructure. This includes "transactions involving the provision of ground connectivity services and fiber optic connections outside of Iran," as well as various satellite management transactions, according to information contained in the waiver.

Administrative services benefiting the IRIB also are permitted as part of the waiver, including those "necessary to establish and maintain ground and satellite connectivity" with the outlet.

The waiver was issued at the discretion of the secretary of state and is made with the U.S. national security interest in mind, according to a State Department spokesperson.

Richard Goldberg, former director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction at the White House National Security Council, said the sanctions waivers shield those helping the regime crack down on the protest movement.

"It's a bit odd that the administration imposes sanctions on people who work for IRIB but won't impose sanctions on IRIB," said Goldberg. "IRIB has platforms outside of Iran that the United States could target with sanctions. Broadcasting forced confessions of tortured dissidents should be a ticket to hell let alone U.S. sanctions."

The Obama administration waived sanctions on the IRIB as part of a side agreement inked during negotiations over the 2015 nuclear deal, as the Free Beacon first reported.

The Trump administration also issued the sanctions waiver when it was in office, drawing anger from congressional Republicans and Iranian dissidents who were pushing for increased pressure on the Iranian regime during a separate series of protests in 2019 that ultimately fizzled out.

In recent months, the IRIB has tried to censor the latest protest movement, which erupted last year after the regime murdered a 22-year-old woman for improperly wearing her head covering. The propaganda outlet claimed in September that "Kurdish separatist groups were involved in the protests," a report meant to suggest the protests are being organized by foreign actors and are not organic.

The network also censored footage of Iranian athletes expressing solidarity with the protest movement during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The outlet has been towing this line since at least 2019, when protests broke out around Iran. At that time, the IRIB produced "a false documentary to claim that women’s presence in the protests were organized by foreign forces," according to Iran International, a news site that closely tracks the regime. The IRIB, the news site reported, works closely with the Iranian "Intelligence Ministry’s interrogators in fabricating staged confessions."

The propaganda network "is notorious for falling back on trite narratives of uneducated prostitutes and runaway young women, ready to exchange their honor for a pittance, to soil the reputation of the women who attended the protests in an effort to silence them," according to Iran International’s 2019 report. "This misogynistic practice is customary in retrograde and religious regimes like Iran."