Interim government imposes indefinite ban on Al-Jazeera

New York, September 7, 2004—Iraq’s interim government has imposed an indefinite ban on newsgathering by Al-Jazeera, extending a temporary suspension and saying the satellite news channel had failed to properly explain its coverage. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Iraqi leaders to reverse the ban immediately, saying it “amounts to censorship that further damages the government’s credibility in leading a free society.”

Iraqi officials announced September 4 that it would make indefinite the previously imposed 30-day ban, which prohibited the Qatar-based channel from reporting in Iraq. Al-Jazeera said Iraqi police sealed the station’s Baghdad office that same day to ensure compliance.

In a statement, the interim government said Al-Jazeera failed to provide a written explanation for its coverage, which Iraqi officials deemed to be against the Iraqi people and government. The government also accused Al-Jazeera of ignoring the earlier ban by conducting interviews with people in Iraq, the station said.

On August 7, the interim government barred Al-Jazeera from working in Iraq for 30 days, accusing the station of incitement to violence and hatred. Officials asserted that Al-Jazeera’s reporting on kidnappings had encouraged Iraqi militants. Other Iraqi officials accused the station of being a mouthpiece for terrorist groups, creating a negative picture of Iraq, and contributing to instability.

The ban was implemented without due process, press advocates noted, and Iraqi officials have not provided details to support their allegations.

“Regrettably, Iraq’s interim government has once again opted for arbitrary controls on media with which it disagrees,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “This step amounts to censorship that further damages the government’s credibility in leading a free society. If it is serious about respecting freedom of the press it should reverse this ban immediately.”