Attacks on the Press 2001: Qatar

For many outside the Arab world, the small Gulf state of Qatar is synonymous with the Al-Jazeera satellite channel, which for more than five years has provided bold news coverage on regional affairs. The feisty channel, which subsists on government funding but has earned a reputation for its editorial independence, has incurred the wrath of regimes throughout the Middle East for its provocative news reporting and energetic political debate programs. In 2001, Tunisia protested a talk show featuring Tunisian dissidents; Israel mulled the idea of barring local subscriptions to the channel; and other countries issued formal complaints or took reprisals against local Al-Jazeera reporters.

After the September 11 attacks on the United States, Al-Jazeera angered the Bush administration and was harshly criticized by both officials and pundits for its allegedly “inflammatory” anti-U.S. coverage and its broadcasts of Osama bin Laden’s taped messages. CPJ expressed concern when U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell urged Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamed bin Khalifa al-Thani to rein in the channel.

Although Al-Jazeera was a bright spot in Qatar’s media landscape, the press does not operate entirely freely. While the government abolished the Ministry of Information and ended formal censorship of newspapers in the 1990s, self-censorship remains pervasive. Even at the normally lively Al-Jazeera, there is little aggressive reporting on Qatari affairs. According to critics, the station never directly criticizes the emir or the ruling family and avoids criticizing powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia.

During the year, Qatari authorities jailed a U.S. national who worked in the Qatari Foreign Ministry for allegedly defaming the emir on a Web site he was accused of operating. The site had featured a poll asking whether the emir’s wife or a Qatari professor was the more attractive woman.

In June, Ahmed Ali, editor of the Qatari daily Al-Watan, was attacked and beaten by three relatives of Minister of Energy and Electricity Abdullah Hamad Al-Attia, who were angered by an article Ali had written that criticized one of the minister’s proposals.

Qatari officials also censor the Internet for morally objectionable material.

June 6

Ahmed Ali, Al-Watan

Three young men assaulted Ali, editor of the Qatari daily Al-Watan, in his office in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The assailants, relatives of Minister of Energy and Electricity Abdullah Hamad Al-Attia, were angered by Ali’s article, which criticized the minister’s proposal that citizens should pay for certain electric and water services that are currently available free of charge.

The men entered the paper’s offices and demanded to speak to the editor. After Ali met them outside, the men followed him into his office and locked the door. There, they began beating him and eventually left, screaming threats at the other staff members who had gathered outside Ali’s office.

Because staff members had noted the license plate number of the attackers’ car, police were able to arrest the three men. They were then released after reaching an out-of-court settlement. Ali was taken to the hospital and treated for several bruises and a broken tooth.