Flash: Iraq Revokes Aljazeera, 9 Other Satellite TV Channels’ Operating Licenses Over Unrest

Iraqi authorities has revoked the operating licenses of pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera and nine other satellite TV channels on Sunday alleging the promotion of a sectarian agenda in the wake of fresh wave of violence.

“We took a decision to suspend the licence of some satellite channels that adopted language encouraging violence and sectarianism,” said Mujahid Abu al-Hail of the Communications and Media Commission (CMC).

The move, effective immediately, comes as Baghdad tries to quell rising unrest in the country following clashes at a protest camp last week.

“It means stopping their work in Iraq and their activities, so they cannot cover events in Iraq or move around,” Hail said.

The CMC said it believes that “the rhetoric and substance coverage” by Baghdad, Al Sharqiyah, Al Sharqiyah News, Babylonian, Salah al-Din, Anwar 2, al Tagheer, Fallujah, Al Jazeera and Al Gharbiyah, all TV channels that operate in the region, were “provocative, misleading and exaggerated with the objective of disturbing the civil and democratic process”.

More than 180 people have been killed in gunbattles with security forces and other attacks since the unrest began Tuesday. The violence follows more than four months of largely peaceful protests by Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority against the Shiite-dominated government.

The protesters have called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and railed against authorities for allegedly targeting their community, including what they say are wrongful detentions and accusations of involvement in terrorism.

Al-Jazeera, based in the small, energy-rich Gulf nation of Qatar in a reaction to this development said it is “astonished by this development. We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once though suggests this is an indiscriminate decision.”

“We urge the authorities to uphold freedom for the media to report the important stories taking place in Iraq” the official statement added.

The channel has aggressively covered the “Arab Spring” uprisings across the region, and has broadcast extensively on the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Qatar itself is a harsh critic of the Syrian regime and a leading backer of the rebels, and is accused by many supporters of Iraq’s Shiite-led government of backing protests in Iraq too.

Iraq and other governments across the Middle East have temporarily shut down Al-Jazeera’s offices in the past because they were disgruntled by its coverage.

The Iraqi decree states that if the 10 stations try to work on Iraqi territory, they will face legal action from security forces.

Signals of their broadcasts, however, remained available to Iraqi viewers Sunday.

Courtesy Aljazeera, AP

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