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Jewish Journal

Lawsuit to seize Iranian regime’s Internet licenses

by Karmel Melamed

August 6, 2014 | 12:43 pm

<em>Iranian students wave flags and pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a rally outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran November 4, 2009. Image credit Caren Firouz/Reuters</em>

Iranian students wave flags and pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a rally outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran November 4, 2009. Image credit Caren Firouz/Reuters

Attorneys representing American-Jewish victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism have filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C., to seize control of Internet licenses and domain names belonging to the Iranian regime. 

The legal motion was made in June against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a U.S. government agency headquartered in Marina Del Rey that controls all Internet domain names. The maneuver aims to force the Iranian regime to pay nearly $1 billion in unpaid judgments from civil lawsuits won by Jewish victims against the Iranian regime for funding suicide bombings and shootings by Hamas and Islamic Jihad nearly two decades ago. 

“We are demanding compensation and justice for the victims and their families,” said Nistana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney based in Israel representing the Jewish terror victims through the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, which she founded and directs. “The message we are trying to send Iran is that you have financed these Hamas attacks, you killed and injured innocent Jews, and now it’s time to pay compensation for your crimes.”

Countries around the world, including Iran, are authorized by ICANN to allocate top-level Internet domain names. The Jewish victims of Iranian-sponsored terror are seeking to obtain control of the domain names ending with “.ir” (Iran) and use them to leverage payment from the regime for their judgments. 

Officials working at the Marina Del Rey headquarters of ICANN declined to comment on the case when contacted by the Journal. Recently, government attorneys for ICANN filed a motion to request the court to completely vacate this latest case brought by the terrorism victims.

Darshan-Leitner, who hails from an Iranian-Jewish family, said the legal move against ICANN comes after many years of being unable to collect on judgments from the different cases against the Iranian regime for funding Palestinian terror attacks against Jews.

“For years the Iranian government has refused to pay its judgments, thumbing its nose at these terror victims and the American court system,” she said.

Darshan-Leitner thinks this time will be different. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allows victims of terrorism to collect judgments against foreign governments that have sponsored terrorism against Americans by seizing the foreign government’s properties or assets that are in the U.S., the attorney said. She argues that the Iranian domain licenses are valuable assets the regime has been able to retain in the U.S.

Darshan-Leitner said the case at hand is especially important to her.

“We believe that the slogan ‘never again’ means first and foremost that no one can murder Jews and simply walk away,” she said. “There has to be a heavy price, and simply forgiving Iran or shrugging our shoulders means that Jewish blood will be deemed cheap in the eyes of the nations.” 

Family members of the Palestinian bombing victims said they were frustrated with the lack of support from the U.S. administration in their efforts to collect on judgments from U.S. courts against the Iranian regime.

“It’s not right that the U.S. government would provide these licenses to Iran while [Iran] is refusing to pay off the judgments handed down against it for funding global terrorism,” said Baruch Ben-Haim, whose son Shlomo was severely injured in a 1995 terrorist bus bombing in Israel; Ben-Chaim and his son have American and Israeli citizenship, and live in Israel.

Many Los Angeles Iranian Jewish leaders said they are supportive of Darshan-Leitner and Shurat HaDin’s pursuit of compensation for the terror victims.

“We are proud and in awe of Nistana’s legal acumen and courage,” said Sam Yebri, president of the L.A.-based Iranian Jewish nonprofit 30 Years After. “This move rebuts the element of financial sanctions that some find objectionable …  for those who say they want to hold Iran accountable but not hurt average Iranians, they must embrace Nistana’s work.”

Shurat HaDin was founded in 2003 in Tel Aviv with a mission to, as its website states, bankrupt “terror groups and grind their criminal activities to a halt — one lawsuit at a time.”

To date, the law center has won more than $1 billion in court judgments against terror organizations and state sponsors. It boasts freezing more than $600 million in terror assets and recouping more than $120 million to compensate victims and their families.

This isn’t the law center’s first interaction with Iran. In 2006, Darshan-Leitner filed a suit in U.S. federal court in New York against former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on behalf of Iranian-Jewish families whose loved ones were kidnapped and imprisoned during the 1990s while attempting to flee Iran illegally.

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist who heads the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said the new case will be valuable to pressuring the Iranian regime.

“I have to say that Nistana’s efforts are extremely beneficial because it publicizes the forgotten cases, continues to expose the people responsible and the Iranian regime’s involvement,” he said. “It can also financially hurt the enablers of terrorism in Iran and demonstrates to the world that while the [United Nations] is either biased or oblivious to most global atrocities, there are still ways for individual victims to seek justice.”

Targeting Iranian Internet licenses and domain names may also curtail the regime’s use of the Internet to advance its radical fundamentalist ideology.

“All of the Iranian regime’s officials are using cyber [social media] for promoting terrorism,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, an Iranian Muslim activist who heads the Marze Por Gohar Iranian opposition group in Westwood. “Not only should Iran’s supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, but all of the regime’s officials should not be given the courtesy of exploiting any social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for their sick purpose — but as we can see, they all have a significant presence on these sites today.”

For their part, the Iranian regime has not acknowledged Darshan-Leitner’s move to seize control of its Internet licenses and domain names. The Farsi-language, Iranian state-run news website Tabnak recently reported on the case involving ICANN but did not indicate any reason for the legal action against Iran.

Representatives at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations did not return calls from the Journal for comment. 

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