Iraq Shuts Al Jazeera Baghdad Office for a Month

Wext: Sunday, 08.August. @ 00:00:00 CEST


08. 08. 2004 - BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's interim government ordered Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite television network to close its Baghdad office for one month Saturday, a move criticized as unjustifiable by the channel.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, confirming the decision at a news conference, said a commission had been monitoring Al Jazeera for the past four weeks to see whether it was inciting violence and hatred, and that the decision had been taken "to protect the people of Iraq."

"It's regrettable and we believe it's not justifiable," Al Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said. "This latest decision runs contrary to all the promises made by Iraqi authorities concerning freedom of expression and freedom of the press."

Iraqi police officers went to the station's Baghdad office late Saturday and argued with Jazeera staff before locking the newsroom.

Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said this week that Arabic satellite channels were encouraging kidnappings by showing images of hostages threatened with execution.

Another government official at the press conference said the station had "encouraged criminals and gangsters" in Iraq.

Al Jazeera's Ballout denied the charge.

"We are not a political organization that is for or against anybody. We display what happens on the ground as objectively as possible and in a balanced way," he said.

Ballout said the television would continue to cover events in Iraq despite the closure. "I'm not going to say it will be easy, but again a creative journalist will try to get a comprehensive and balanced story out there," he said.

In recent weeks several senior Iraqi officials have criticized Jazeera's coverage of the country.

Earlier this week, the station reported a videotaped statement from a militant group linked to al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi saying it had released two Turkish drivers because their company agreed to stop working in Iraq.

Scores of hostages from two dozen countries have been seized in the past four months. Most have been freed but at least 10 have been killed, and at least 20 are still being held in Iraq.

Last month, Al Jazeera, accused by the United States of graphic and anti-American conflict coverage, unveiled a code of ethics it said would ensure balanced and sensitive reporting.

Jazeera won over millions of Arab viewers before and during the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan in 2001 after airing exclusive footage of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.

(Additional reporting by Heba Kandil)

Source: Reuters

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