UN: Saudi Bloc attempt to close Al Jazeera is attack on Freedom of Expression

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reuters reports that U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, is “extremely concerned by the demand that Qatar close down the Al Jazeera network, as well as other affiliated media outlets.”

The statement was released by UNCHR spokesman Rupert Colville.

Colville added:

“Whether or not you watch it, like it, or agree with its editorial standpoints, Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English channels are legitimate, and have many millions of viewers. The demand that they be summarily closed down is, in our view, an unacceptable attack on the right to freedom of expression and opinion…”

Journalists have also weighed in on the controversy. Yasser Mahjub al-Ansari writes in al-Sharq, saying that the boycott placed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and others is a human rights violation in international law and has nothing to do with combating terrorism.

The demand for the closure of Al Jazeera, he said, is an attack on Qatar’s national sovereignty. The channel has become part of Qatar’s grand strategy, and asking them to close it down is like asking Switzerland to close its banks. Moreover, its Arab and Western viewership has come to depend on it– Saudi and the others are intervening in someone else’s relationship.

He quotes Egyptian journalist Muhammad Hussein Haikal that Al Jazeera being the best known brand in Arabic language news.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Why Saudi Arabia Wants Qatar to Shut Al Jazeera | The New York Times

10 Responses

  1. Saudi Arabia and other ultra-conservative and autocratic monarchy’s primarily want to suppress all opposition and pro-reform groups and media outlets so that they can continue to be human right violators and use their financial muscle (but not moral right) to remain unaccountable.

  2. The American government has just passed legislation seriously curtailing, if not actually shutting down, the Russian news channels, RT and Sputnic for the very same reasons as the Saudi government wants to close Al Jazeera. That is, they are putting out news and opinion that contradicts the state narrative and therefore has to be silenced. Free speech is only tolerated when it doesn’t challenge the state. Curiously, Turkey’s Erdogan supports Qatar yet he has silenced most of his critics at home by putting them in prison. Its a mad world.

    • There is an enormous difference between censorship at home – which practically every country has committed and is recognized as their sovereign right under international law – and ordering another country to close its own media a part of an ultimatum of war. The Saudis were already censoring their own citizens’ media. This is very different.

      • Under the law they are very different. The US constitution guarantees freedom of speech, which protects print media. The bar for libel is extremely high under US courts: one has to demonstrate that that the writer or speaker knew that the information that she was promulgating was false at the time of dissemination.

        Which international law statute suggests as you write: “another country to close its own media a part of an ultimatum of war”?

        I find it hard to believe that such law exists in the UN charter or associated frameworks for international governance: it might be possible, but you should point out which statue makes your case.

    • @Kim Rose Which legislature? Would to be difficult to see how such legislature would be able to hold up against the first amendment.

  3. U.N. High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein may well be concerned but his concern has no teeth. Anyone who imagines Mohammed bin Salman can be swayed by UNCHR pronouncements, any more than Netanyahu, is deluded. In fact it might be argued that the expression of such concern in the absence of any meaningful follow through is actually counter productive since it may encourage some to imagine that if the UNCHR has taken it up they can relax about it. It also encourages the perpetrators of human rights abuse to cock a snook at the institution itself. There is no room for sweeping denunciations or trenchant criticisms in the dealings of a world whose falsehoods and veracities are separated by so thin a barrier Gibbon.

  4. To think the US has always supported, protected, and has been Saudi’s best buddy, is unbelievable. Here we have been accusing other nations of not having democracy and we have invaded other nations to take “democracy” there, yet Saudi continues to stone women to death, and arrest women when they dare to drive cars. How about taking “democracy” to Saudi Arabia too, just like we took it to Iraq?

  5. I am reminded that the Shah of Iran was brought down by some guy living in France using cassette tape recordings! Cassette tapes in 1979 were the internet of today.

    These rotten regimes of the middle east know that they must plug every leak of contrary information. They surely know the lesson of the Shah but seem to have no strategy aside from attempting to stick their finger in the dike and hope for the best.

  6. This is simply not on. How the hell can one country or a group of countries tell another to close their media down. that would be like having Germany and Norway decide to call G.B. and tell them to call the U.S.A. and close down the New York Times and CBS. It would be laughable. So why does any one think its a good idea to close Al Jazeera?

    I live in Canada and from time to time I read Al Jazeera. Don’t agree with a lot of their coverage of Israel, but some of their other coverage is good and I for one support freedom of the press.

    The is just Saudi’s way of extending their censorship to other countries in the region. They may well be doing it at the request of the Americans who themselves have started censorship with the banning of cameras when ever the White House decrees it so at White House Briefings.

    I support Al Jazeera

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