Iraq withdraws Al-Jazeera’s license

New York, April 28, 2016 – Iraqi authorities should immediately restore Al-Jazeera’s operating license, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The Qatari broadcaster reported that Iraqi authorities informed it Wednesday that its license to operate had been withdrawn.

According to a statement from Al-Jazeera, the network received a letter from the Iraqi Commission of Media and Communications (CMC) saying its license had been withdrawn for violating “official codes of conduct and broadcasting rules and regulations.” The network said it was “shocked and bewildered” by the decision and denied it had violated any professional standards of reporting. It also said it would continue reporting on Iraq despite the decision.

“Iraq is resorting to bureaucratic measures to censor Al-Jazeera, one of the region’s leading broadcasters. It’s that simple,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Iraqi authorities should immediately restore Al-Jazeera’s license and allow all journalists to do their jobs without harassment.”

The CMC did not publish a copy of the letter on its website and did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment. The CMC Board of Trustees on March 23 resolved to withdraw Al-Jazeera’s license for one year, claiming the network had stoked sectarian feeling and incited violence in its coverage, according to a report published on the commission’s website. The report said the decision, which can be appealed, applied to Al-Jazeera’s Arabic and English channels for one year. It did not specify any specific reports that it considered to have violated its regulations.

It was not immediately clear why Al-Jazeera received the letter more than a month after the CMC decision, or if the decision was linked to the letter. Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 65, which established the CMC in March 2004, requires television stations to acquire a license from the regulator in order to open offices, broadcast, and employ staff in the country. But the CMC depends on the Ministry of Interior to enforce its orders, and unlicensed channels are still able to broadcast their signals from outside the country.

It was not immediately clear if Al-Jazeera had appealed the CMC’s decision. A spokesman for Al-Jazeera referred CPJ to the broadcaster’s public statement.

Today’s move against Al-Jazeera comes a month after the Ministry of Interior closed the offices of the pro-Sunni satellite channel Al-Baghdadia TV, whose license the CMC had also withdrawn.

In 2013, the CMC suspended the licenses of Al-Jazeera and nine other channels on accusations of reporting with a “sectarian tone” and promoting unnamed “terrorist organizations” in response to their coverage of pro-Sunni demonstrations against the Iraqi government.

This morning, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi contended with a political crisis that has hindered the military campaign against the Islamic State group, according to news reports. After a drawn out political battle, Al-Abadi won parliament’s approval to replace several ministers on Tuesday. But popular protests against corruption and political patronage have forced Iraqi authorities to return security forces to the capital from the frontline, Reuters reported.