Reporters Without Borders Addresses Demand to Shut Down Al Jazeera

ajeGulf nations issue list demanding the closure of Al Jazeera and some other Arab media news outlets [Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]

23 June 2017 | AJE | AJE

Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organisation promoting press freedom, has condemned the demand by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to shut Al Jazeera network and other media outlets in Qatar.

The Gulf states issued a 13-point list on Friday, demanding the closure of all news outlets that it funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al Jadeed, Mekameleen and Middle East Eye.

“We are really worried about the implication and consequences of such requirements if it will ever be implemented,” said Alexandra El Khazen, head of Middle East and North Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Paris, Khazen said: “We are against any kind of censorship and measures that could threaten the diversity in the Arab media landscape and pluralism for instance.

“The Arabic media landscape should make room and accept the broadest range of view points instead of adopting repressive measures against alternative viewpoints that are found to be critical of some governments.”

Tim Dawson, president of the UK’s National Union of Journalists, expressed his “absolute horror” in reaction to what we called a “monstrous request” and urged the Saudi government to withdraw the demands.

Khazen also expressed concern over the impact of the demands on the employees of the mentioned media outlets.

“Some of them may come under pressure to resign or to choose to do so to be aligned with the policy of their country, so we are currently investigating this,” she said.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed relations with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting “terrorism”. Qatar has denied the allegation.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said that Al Jazeera Media Network is an “internal affair” and there will be no discussion about the fate of the Doha-based broadcaster amid the Gulf crisis.

To stem the flow of negative reactions Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain took steps to curb their citizens from expressing opinions that opposed their policies.

The UAE announced that any objections to the UAE’s strict measures against the government of Qatar or expression of sympathy with Qatar would be a crime punishable by a prison sentence of 3-15 years and a fine of no less than $136,000 (500,000AED), whether on a social media platform or via any written or spoken medium.

The criminalisation of sympathy with Qatar was implemented in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with slight differences in the length of prison sentences and size of fines.

Khazen said the decision to punish citizens is a “huge violation of freedom of speech and information that could have serious implications”.

Al Jazeera reporters have often come under fire, with Egypt imprisoning Arabic reporter Mahmoud Hussein, who has been in jail for 185 days “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state’s reputation”.

Al Jazeera’s Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy spent 437 days in jail before being released. Peter Greste spent more than a year in prison in Egypt.

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