Network “shocked” by action and vows to continue coverage of events in the country.
Reporters Without Borders, the international organisation which promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press, has called on Iraq to revoke its decision of suspending Al Jazeera’s licence that resulted in the closure of its Baghdad bureau last month.
The Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) shut down the bureau and banned Al Jazeera’s journalists from reporting in the country, saying it was withdrawing the licence because of “violations of the official codes of conduct and broadcasting rules and regulations”.
“An arbitrary decision has been taken against Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau,” said Alexandra El Khazen, head of the Middle East desk of RSF, whose head office is in Paris.
“We call on the authorities to rescind this decision on the grounds of media pluralism and media freedom, which are guaranteed by the constitution. The TV channel’s staff must be allowed to resume working.”
The network denied any violations of professional journalism standards in its news coverage and programming, saying that it was “shocked and bewildered” by the decision, and promised to continue its coverage of Iraq for its audience there and around the world.
“Al Jazeera is committed to its editorial principles in the coverage of current affairs in Iraq. It abides by its code of ethics in its coverage and programming, and by the highest global standards of professionalism, and has been doing so since its launch,” Al Jazeera said in a statement.
The network’s Baghdad bureau chief Waleed Ibrahim Mahmood told RSF that the Iraqi authorities had taken a “very radical” decision against the Doha-based broadcaster because they did not like its programmes and editorial policies.
He said unidentified armed men have also repeatedly threatened the bureau.
While the Iraqi authorities accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence and sectarianism, Ziad Ajili, head of Iraq’s Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), defended the professionalism of the network’s reporting in Iraq, according to the RSF.
Iraq, along with Syria, is the most dangerous places for journalists, the RSF said in a published report last year.
A total of 110 journalists were killed around the world in 2015, with 11 deaths taking place in Iraq.
The casualty figure reflects the highly unstable nature of the country where some 165,000 civilians have died from direct war-related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through April 2015.
In the latest incident, a car bomb claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in the eastern city of Baquba killed at least 16 people on Monday and wounded 54 others, police and hospital sources said.
The Amaq news agency, which supports ISIL, said a suicide bomber had targeted Shia fighters in the provincial capital of Diyala.
The sources said many of the fatalities were children eating at a nearby restaurant.