September 18, 2020
Al Jazeera+, the English-language online news service of Qatar-based news organization Al Jazeera, has been ordered by the Justice Department to register as a foreign agent operating in the United States.
In a Sept. 14 letter from the DOJ, the government says AJ+ should be subject to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), claiming the streaming video platform engages in political activities on behalf of the Qatar government.
“Journalism designed to influence American perceptions of a domestic policy issue or a foreign nation’s activities or its leadership qualifies as ‘political activities’ under the statutory definition,” Jay Bratt, the counterintelligence chief at the DOJ, wrote in the letter.
AJ+, which produces videos for social media in English, Arabic, French and Spanish, has offices in Doha and Washington, D.C. The FARA determination would only apply to the English-language AJ+ based in the U.S.
The letter came the day before the Trump Administration announced an accord between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Al Jazeera claims the DOJ action is a condition of the UAE/Israel agreement since it claims the UAE, together with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, has sought to impose an economic blockade on Qatar, alleging the country has ties with Iran — claims the country denies.
“The UAE has confirmed it presented the United States with preconditions prior to announcing the Abraham Accords, and we received DOJ’s letter the day before the UAE signed the Accords,” Al Jazeera said in a statement to The New York Times. “Hobbling Al Jazeera was one of the top conditions of the UAE’s blockade against Qatar and the Justice Department just gave the UAE what it wanted,” the statement said.
Patrick Toomey, senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, assailed the FARA designation on AJ+ as politics by the Trump Administration.
“This order is a threat to the freedom of the press,” Toomey said in a statement. “People in the United States rely on dedicated news organizations for reporting on world events and the human impact of our government’s policies around the globe. The government should not misuse a vague and overboard ‘foreign agent’ law to target news organizations for political purposes.”