Al-Jazeera barred from covering the hajj

New York, February 13, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disturbed that the Saudi Arabian government refused to allow the Qatar-based Arabic language satellite station Al-Jazeera to cover the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the hajj.

According to a source at the station, the nine-member crew slated to cover the pilgrimage had applied for visas to Saudi Arabia several months ago. Saudi authorities never responded to Al-Jazeera’s request. Although the Saudi government made no formal statement regarding the visa applications, authorities have taken issue with Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the country, and in September 2002, Saudi officials recalled their ambassador from Qatar’s capital, Doha, where Al-Jazeera is based.

Without visas, the same Al-Jazeera crew, which was to cover a meeting of defense and foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council beginning on February 7, in the western city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, were not able to do so. The Gulf Cooperation Council comprises six Gulf Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.

Al-Jazeera has been authorized to cover pilgrimage for the last three years. “Last year, we had no trouble,” said the station source. This year, many other stations, including U.S.-based CNN and United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi TV, were allowed to broadcast from Mecca.

In May 2002, Bahraini authorities barred Al-Jazeera from covering municipal elections in that country and accused Al-Jazeera of being a medium for “Zionist infiltration in the Gulf region.”