International

Call to close Al-Jazeera ‘unacceptable attack’ on free speech: UN

GENEVA: The UN voiced outrage on Friday at the demand from Gulf countries that Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera shut down, describing it as “an unacceptable attack on the right to freedom of expression and opinion.”

The closure of the broadcaster is one of 13 wide-ranging demands placed on Doha by Saudi Arabia and its allies as the price for lifting an almost month-long “blockade” on Qatar.

The four countries have given Qatar a 10-day deadline for implementation ending on July 4.

UN rights chief 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,” his spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters.

“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,” he said.

“The demand that they be summarily closed down is, in our view, an unacceptable attack on the right to freedom of expression and opinion.”

Colville stressed that countries that take issue with items broadcast on other countries’ television channels, “are at liberty to publicly debate and dispute them.”

“To insist that such channels be shut down is extraordinary, unprecedented and clearly unreasonable,” he said.

He warned that if Qatar goes ahead and shutters Al-Jazeera, “it would open a Pandora’s Box of powerful individual states or groups of states seriously undermining the right to freedom of expression and opinion in other states, as well as in their own.”

With the support of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, the Saudis announced on June 5 they were suspending all ties with Qatar, accusing it of support for extremist groups — a claim Doha denies.

They closed their airspace to Qatari carriers and blocked the emirate’s only land border, a vital route for its food imports. They also ordered all Qataris to leave and their own nationals to return home.

And after Riyadh last week laid down its list of 13 demands for Qatar, the UAE warned the country should take them seriously or face “divorce” from its Gulf neighbours.

Zeid is urging “all five states to take measures to solve this dispute in a calm, reasonable and lawful manner,” Colville said, adding the countries should “ensure that any actions they take do not impact on the human rights of their own and other countries´ citizens and residents.”

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