Al Jazeera Closure "a Blow to Free Speech", HRW

By Human Rights Watch.

The closure of Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau by the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission is nothing but an effort to clamp down on freedom of expression. The commission should promptly reverse its decision and allow the bureau to operate freely in accordance with international standards on freedom of the media and free speech, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

The commission, in a letter to the bureau, accused Al Jazeera of “incit[ing] sectarianism and violence.” The station’s Baghdad bureau chief, Waleed Ibrahim, said that commission officials later told him the order stemmed from their displeasure with the editorial policies of Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar.

Iraqi authorities should immediately allow Al Jazeera to resume its work, or spell out exactly how and when the station incited violence, Human Rights Watch said.

“Iraqis have a right to hear a variety of perspectives on current events,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Closing down a prominent international network on the basis of vague and unsubstantiated allegations smacks of political motivation to shut out uncomfortable criticism, and it’s an action that should be immediately reversed.”

Ibrahim told Human Rights Watch that the commission’s executive board called him into a meeting on February 21, 2016. At the meeting, he said, the board members accused Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha of being sectarian and encouraging what they said were “violations” in its Iraq coverage. Ibrahim said he refused to sign a letter that he agreed with the allegations, “but also explained that I do not have any control over the content coming out of Doha, only out of Baghdad.”

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