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September 16, 2020 11:18 am

New Blow to Qatar’s Ruling Family as US Orders Al Jazeera Affiliate AJ+ to Register as Foreign Agent

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The Al Jazeera English newsroom. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The US Department of Justice has declared the Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN) — the international outlet owned by Qatar’s ruling family — an “agent of the Qatar government,” at the same time ordering one of the network’s English-language affiliates to register as a foreign agent.

In a letter to AJ+, an Al Jazeera spin-off that produces content for social media platforms, the DoJ stated that its decision was based on the channel’s engagement “in political activities within the United States” and that it “has acted and continues to act as a publicity agent within the United States, on behalf of the Government of Qatar and Al Jazeera Media Network.”

Authored by Jay Bratt — the chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence within DOJ’s National Security Division — the 11-page letter, dated Sept. 14, was obtained by the magazine Mother Jones on Monday.

The letter pointed out that the Qatari government “could and may withdraw or limit funding at any time” for the network, observing as well that the emir of Qatar controlled Al Jazeera by appointing its board.

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Bratt also argued that AJ+ encouraged audiences to question “what conduct constitutes terrorism; demonstrate a disdain for the term ‘Islamist Terror;’ adopt a positive view of Iran; show support for the Palestinian cause and question US support for Israel.”

The directive means that AJ+ joins the list of media outlets from other authoritarian regimes recently required to register as foreign agents by the DoJ.

The list includes Russia’s RT and Sputnik, Turkish public broadcaster TRT and five Chinese state media outlets.

The DoJ announcement followed a lobbying effort by Republican legislators over the last several weeks to rein in the network.

An Aug. 8 letter from Senators Marco Rubio (FL) and Lee Zeldin (NY) to US Attorney General William Barr charged that “Al Jazeera claims to promote democracy and free speech…But the network is functionally muzzled when it comes to coverage of domestic news and hardly ventures into coverage of Qatar itself, a dictatorship that turns a blind eye to terror finance while offering refuge to Hamas commanders.”

Speculation that Monday’s announcement was tied to the peace agreements signed at the White House on Tuesday between Israel and two of Qatar’s regional adversaries, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was summarily dismissed by the UAE’s envoy in Washington, DC.

“At no point in our discussions was Al Jazeera or even Qatar raised,” Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba told The New York Times.

“They [Al Jazeera]  are really not as important as they think they are,” al-Otaiba added.

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