Rights groups and journalists raise concerns over suppression of press freedom as Gulf states issue demands to Qatar.
Press freedom and human rights advocates, journalists and social media users have condemned a demand by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to shut Al Jazeera network and other media outlets in Qatar.

The Arab states reportedly issued a 13-point list on Friday, demanding the closure of all news outlets that it funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al Jadeed, Mekameleen and Middle East Eye.

“We are really worried about the implication and consequences of such requirements if they will ever be implemented,” said Alexandra El Khazen, head of Middle East and North Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organisation promoting press freedom.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Paris, Khazen said: “We are against any kind of censorship and measures that could threaten the diversity in the Arab media landscape and pluralism, for instance.

“The Arabic media landscape should make room and accept the broadest range of viewpoints instead of adopting repressive measures against alternative viewpoints that are found to be critical of some governments.”

Khazen also expressed concern over the impact of the demands on the employees of the mentioned media outlets.

“Some of them may come under pressure to resign or to choose to do so to be aligned with the policy of their country, so we are currently investigating this,” she said.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, called the Saudi-led bloc’s demand “absurd”.

“This is just an attempted expansion of the cowardly censorship they have inflicted on their own citizens, but it will fail,” she said.

Tim Dawson, president of the UK’s National Union of Journalists, expressed his “absolute horror” in reaction to what he called a “monstrous request” and urged the Saudi government to withdraw the demands.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also condemned “the use of news outlets as a bargaining chip” and “urged all countries involved in this dispute to stop holding media hostage” to political differences.

“The Gulf region needs a vibrant free press and news outlets based there must be allowed to report freely,” said Joel Simon, the executive director of CPJ.

Meanwhile, The Guardian criticised the efforts to silence Al Jazeera as “wrong” and “ridiculous”.

“The attack on Al Jazeera is part of an assault on free speech to subvert the impact of old and new media in the Arab world. It should be condemned and resisted,” the UK-based newspaper said in an editorial.

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By Expat