On 3 December 2015, Al Jazeera America (AJAM) published an article by US-based civil rights attorney and analyst Arjun Sethi. Entitled "Saudi Arabia Uses Terrorism as An Excuse for Human Rights Abuses," the article drew on a range of reports by international human rights organizations about the Saudi regime`s repression of dissent and the recent increase in the number of planned executions. It also drew direct parallels and connections between the US War on Terror and that of the Saudi regime. The article circulated well on the Internet, in the United States, Europe, as well as the Middle East. It solicited a barrage of tweets directed at Sethi, some critiquing the article but most making racist and bigoted statements about his assumed racial and religious background. It is fair to say Sethi was trolled. A few days later, the article was no longer available to international readers. As of this writing, only web traffic originating in the United States is able to access the article off the Al Jazaeer America website.
In such instances, one can assume one of two possibilities: either the Al Jazeera servers have been hacked from the outside or the media organization itself has limited the availability of the article. According to The Intercept, most indications point to Al Jazeera`s headquarters making a decision to limit the circulation of the article. Among the evidence marshaled is the fact that the AJAM tweet announcing the article has since been deleted, and a Saudi regime-affiliated website quoted Al Jazeera Director Yassir Abu-Hilala apologizing for the article and claiming it had been removed. You can read the full Intercept report here, and access the original article here (republished by The Intercept to make it available to non-US-based readers).
The Saudi and Qatari regimes have sometimes been at odds on regional politics, particularly with the latter`s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. However, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Emir Tamim Hamad al-Thani appear to have harmonized their foreign policies on most fronts. Thus both Saudi- and Qatari-funded media networks have for the most part avoided criticizing one another`s policies and human rights records.
This of course would not be the first time the Al Jazeera network has been implicated in such pro-Saudi (and pro-Qatari) dynamics. For one, its coverage of the 2011 uprising in Bahrain was effectively non-existent, propagating the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) narrative that demonized the protesters as sectarian agitators and justified the brutal Saudi-led intervention to suppress the protest movement. Today, Al Jazeera has played second fiddle to the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which has devastated the country in terms of political intervention, civilian deaths, social and economic dislocation, and infrastructural damage. This comes at a time when Saudi lobbying efforts in the United States are at an all-time high, and its tactics of suppressing dissent by Saudis within and outside of the kingdom`s border has struck fear in many an activist circle. Furthermore, the Al Jazeera network has at least twice before unpublished English-language articles, both times by Joseph Massad (see here and here).
However, this is the first publically known instance of Al Jazeera America censoring its published content by deleting it or limiting access, either directly or through higher-level management based in Qatar. Whichever the case, the incident only confirms suspicions that the Saudi regime is using all available means for an intensified campaign to suppress dissent at home and silence critics abroad; a dynamic the US government is intimately implicated in given its close diplomatic, strategic, military, and economic relations with the country. Indeed, birds of a feather flock together.