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

Ibrahim told Human Rights Watch that he did not know yet whether they would appeal, and is skeptical that invoking this procedure would lead to the decision being overturned. “Even if we can get a court to confirm this decision is unlawful, given our experience with the CMC I highly doubt we will get anywhere,” he said. “This is not the first time they have gone after us, and I strongly believe that this is a politically motivated decision.”

On March 16, the commission shut down the Cairo-based, privately owned Al Baghdadia TV. The Interior Ministry issued a statement the next day stating the station was operating illegally and without a license. Najm al-Rubai`i, the director of the station, told Human Rights Watch that a man claiming to represent the commission came to the station offices in Baghdad on March 16, without prior notice and without any official paperwork, and said the station was being closed based on the basis of a 2014 decision by former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. In 2014, authorities had closed the station for almost a year. It was allowed to reopen after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the withdrawal of all government lawsuits against journalists and media outlets in December 2014.

On March 20, al-Abadi told Human Rights Watch that the closure of Al Baghdadia was due to the channel’s “incitement,” referring to its coverage of the threat of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators breaking into the heavily fortified International Zone housing government institutions and foreign missions.

Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns over the media commission’s “mandatory” guidelines, passed in June 2014, which unjustifiably restrict media freedom. The guidelines demand that media avoid making information about insurgent forces public and requires them to report on government forces only in favorable terms. Article 1 forbids media from broadcasting or publishing material that “may be interpreted as being against the security forces” and instead insists that they “focus on the security achievements of the armed forces, by repetition throughout the day.” This includes “praising the heroic acts of security personnel.”

Reporters Without Borders ranked Iraq 153 out of 180 for 2016, in terms of safety for news media staff, stating that armed clashes and politically motivated violence made it one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. The organization also noted that “the government often closes down media outlets on the grounds that they are ‘sectarian’ or ‘not neutral.’

“The media in Iraq need protection from threats and political interference, not official muzzling,” Stork said. “The commission should demonstrate it understands its role in ensuring respect for free speech and reverse its decisions with respect to Al Jazeera and Al Baghdadia.”

(Source: HRW)

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