May 9, 2016 - Updated on May 19, 2016

RSF urges Iraq to reopen Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) to immediately rescind its decision to suspend Al-Jazeera’s licence to operate in Iraq for a year, which has resulted in the closure of its Baghdad bureau.

Al-Jazeera was formally notified of the decision on 27 April but the CMC had already warned a month earlier that the Qatari broadcaster’s licence would be withdrawn for repeatedly violating regulations introduced in 2014 as part of Iraq’s efforts to combat Islamic State.

An arbitrary decision has been taken against Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “We call on the authorities to rescind this decision on the grounds of media pluralism and media freedom, which are guaranteed by the constitution. The TV channel’s staff must be allowed to resume working.”

Al-Jazeera Baghdad bureau chief Waleed Ibrahim Mahmood told RSF that the Iraqi authorities had taken a “very radical” decision against the Doha-based broadcaster because they did not like its programmes and editorial policies. He added that unidentified gunmen have also repeatedly threatened the Baghdad bureau.

The Iraqi authorities accuse Al-Jazeera of inciting violence and sectarianism but Ziad Ajili, the head of Iraq’s Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), defends the professionalism of its reporting in Iraq.

The Al-Jazeera Baghdad bureau has filed an appeal against the CMC’s decision and has passed on the details of the CMC’s complaints to its headquarters on Doha. All of the bureau’s activities are meanwhile suspended pending a possible reversal of the CMC’s decision.

Along with nine other TV channels, Al-Jazeera was already banned in 2013 on similar grounds of inciting violence and sectarianism.

It was the CMC that also took the decision to close down all of Cairo-based Al-Baghdadia TV’s bureaux in Iraq on 16 March.

The CMC was created in 2003, in the immediate aftermath of the US-led military intervention, with the task of regulating the media. Its decisions have often been accused of lacking independence and violating media freedom.

Iraq is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.