On 9 July 2017, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, H.E. Dr Anwar Gargash, sent a letter to Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in response to a statement made by the High Commissioner’s spokesperson on 30 June 2017.  The Minister’s letter also referred to a statement made on 28 June 2017 by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, on “the reported demand by a number of governments that Qatar close the Al-Jazeera media network”.

The letter sent to the High Commissioner stressed that while the protection of the right of freedom of expression is of fundamental importance, this protection is not absolute, and restrictions on the right are permitted under international law to protect national security and public order. “Freedom of expression cannot be used to justify and shield the promotion of extremist narratives,” the letter notes. The letter also recalls UN Security Council Resolution 1624 (2005), an historic resolution that focused on messages that often precede acts of terrorism and calls on States to prohibit and prevent incitement to commit terrorist acts.

The letter refers to the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Countering Violent Extremism adopted by the Special Rapporteur and several regional and human rights bodies, which recognises that States may restrict reporting that is intended to incite imminent violence, is likely to incite such violence, and where there is a direct and immediate connection between the reporting and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence.

In this regard, the letter makes clear that Al Jazeera’s reporting has repeatedly crossed the threshold of incitement to hostility, violence and discrimination, and lists several examples of such content. For instance, on 18 February 2008, following the re-publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, Al Jazeera TV broadcast a speech by the spokesman of the Salah al-Din brigades in Gaza that called on Muslims to “burn down the offices of the newspapers that affronted our Prophet, and bomb them so that body parts go flying”. Two separate plans to assassinate the cartoonist, and staff of the newspaper that published the cartoon, were later thwarted by police. Most recently, the mother and sister of one of the perpetrators of the London Bridge attack, Youssef Zaghba, told the Times (UK) that her son was radicalised by watching Al-Jazeera. 

The letter further highlights how Al Jazeera has promoted anti-Semitic violence by broadcasting sermons by the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in which he praised Hitler, described the Holocaust as “divine punishment”, and called on Allah to “take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people … and kill them, down to the very last one.” Also included in the letter are numerous examples of ongoing editorial support for terrorist groups and on-air promotion of sectarianism by Al Jazeera journalists. The letter mentions that, over the years, Qatari-owned and controlled Al Jazeera Arabic has provided a platform to Osama bin Laden (al-Qaeda), Abu Muhammad al Jolani (al-Nusra), Khaled Mashal (Hamas), Mohammed Deif (Hamas), Anwar al-Awlaki (Al-Qaeda), Hassan Nasrallah (Hizbullah), Ramadan Shallah (Palestinian Islamic Jihad), and Abdel Hakim Belhadj (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group), among others. The letter also explains that these interviews gave opportunities for terrorist groups to threaten, recruit and incite, without challenge or restraint.

The letter reiterates that the UAE’s strong objections to Al Jazeera are not a matter of disagreement on its editorial standpoints, but are a direct and necessary response to its persistent and dangerous incitement to hostility, violence and discrimination. In light of the alarming examples quoted in the letter, these objections are legitimate, well founded and reasonable.

The letter concludes with an invitation to the High Commissioner to discuss additional cases of Al Jazeera’s promotion of extremist ideologies and ways to protect the right of freedom of expression in the face of such egregious abuses.