IFJ: Saudi, UAE using journalists as political football

Journalists and their families in Qatar facing devastating impact of Saudi bloc’s actions, says respected media body.

Staff work inside Al Jazeera Media Network HQ in Doha
Al Jazeera's bureaus in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt have been shut down entirely [Reuters]

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and their allies that have cut ties with Qatar to stop using journalists as “political footballs”, as the risk of families being separated and demands to close Al Jazeera persist.

The largest federation of journalist unions in the world, the IFJ added its voice on Friday to an increasing number of nongovernmental organisations and governments that have called on Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to end the blockade of Qatar.

The blockade, which has entered its 12th day, was imposed by air, land, and sea for all territories under the jurisdiction of the three countries.

Egypt has also denied Qatar use of its airspace.

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Those of Saudi, Bahraini, and Emirati nationality living in Qatar were told by their countries to leave within 14 days.

The measures were put in place following the cutting off of diplomatic ties by these countries with Qatar for its alleged “support of terrorism”.

But the demands that have been leaked to the press – and remain unconfirmed by official diplomatic sources speaking on the record – appear to focus more on media freedom in the region and support for political dissidents and opposition groups in the region.

“At Al Jazeera and Bein Sports alone, 44 Saudi nationals, 13 Bahrainis and one from the United Arab Emirates are under threat,” the IFJ reported.

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“With hundreds of journalists having settled in Doha as they took up work with Qatari news media, many have put down roots and married Qataris. Now those families face being forced apart.”

One of the demands of the Saudi-Emirati bloc regarding Qatar allegedly involves the closure of the Al Jazeera Media Network, which the IFJ addressed directly.

‘We don’t want to be separated’: GCC families in limbo amid Gulf rift

Anthony Bellanger, the secretary-general for the Brussels-based organisation, said in a statement: “We utterly condemn moves to force the closure of Al Jazeera, throw its journalists out of jobs and undermine the freedom to inform, and the right to free speech and free media.”

Al Jazeera’s bureaus in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt have been shut down entirely, while the website and network has been banned in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain.

“Journalists doing their jobs and their families – husbands, wives and children – must not be used as political footballs in this dispute,” Bellanger said.

“There is now a grave danger their human rights are being violated.”

Amnesty International, as well as UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, have previously criticised the Saudi-Emirati bloc’s blockade.

They said the bloc’s countries are “toying with the lives of thousands of Gulf residents as part of their dispute with Qatar”.

Source: Al Jazeera