Amnesty International’s regional director has hit out at Israel’s decision to close Al Jazeera’s office in Jerusalem and take the channel off the air as “a brazen attack on media freedom” and an attempt to silence critical voices.
“This is a brazen attack on media freedom in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The move sends a chilling message that the Israeli authorities will not tolerate critical coverage,” the organization’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, Magdalena Mughrabi, said.
In its decision “to suppress Al Jazeera,” the Israeli government essentially sided with states such as Saudi Arabia that are also demanding the media outlet to be shut down amid an ongoing row between Doha and the Gulf states, the statement says.
“All journalists should be free to carry out their work without facing harassment or intimidation.
Instead of initiating a repressive clampdown on freedom of expression the Israeli authorities must halt any attempt to silence critical media.”
Al Jazeera blasted the plan to close the channel on Sunday, saying that the measure comes from “a country that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East,” and that the channel would “closely watch the developments that may result from the Israeli decision” and take “all the necessary legal measures.”
Amnesty International’s statement came in response to a formal announcement on Sunday by Israel’s communications minister, Ayoub Kara, of plans to shut down the channel and revoke the media credentials of its journalists.
Kara said that “freedom of expression is very important” to him, but he needs to think about how to “secure the safety of Israel’s citizens,” blaming the network for the “loss of our finest sons,” referring to their coverage of the July 14 attack in which two Israeli police officers were fatally shot during an attack at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also backed the move, saying that Al Jazeera “does not cease to incite to violence around the Temple Mount,” and pledging to “enact the necessary laws to remove Al Jazeera from Israel.”
The Temple Mount has seen a wave of violent protests near the famous Al-Aqsa Mosque after Israel stepped up security measures around the mosque, installing metal detectors, which it agreed later to remove.
Al Jazeera dismissed Netanayhu’s comments, condemning the PM’s “arbitrary accusations and hostile statements.”
The latest events come as a number of Gulf States have cut ties with, and imposed a blockade on, Qatar, the state which owns the channel.
Among other things, Doha has been accused of supporting terrorism and allegedly meddling in other states’ affairs.
Qatar was also issued a list of demands, one of which is to shut down Al Jazeera.
Doha refused to accept the list of demands, stating that they are an infringement on its sovereignty, and filing a legal complaint with the World Trade Organization.
Doha dismissed the other accusations, including their alleged support of terrorism.
Amid the crisis, Turkey and Qatar staged joint military drills aimed at preparing Qatar’s military to defend “vital economic, strategic and infrastructure facilities,” Qatari media reports, as cited by Reuters.
Last week, Qatar also announced that it would buy seven Italian Navy vessels in a $6-billion defense deal.