Al Jazeera's Baghdad office has been shut for a year and its operating licence revoked on Wednesday by Iraqi authorities citing "continuing violations and offences and persistent media discourse instigating violence and sectarianism," according to Agence France Presse. The network has expressed "shock" at the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission's (CMC) action.
"Al Jazeera is committed to its editorial principles in the coverage of current affairs in Iraq. It abides by its code of ethics in its coverage and programming, and by the highest global standards of professionalism, and has been doing so since its launch," the network said in a statement.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and media rights groups have condemned the Iraq government's clampdown on the news network.
"While fully respecting the prerogatives of the commission, at times of crisis a free media â€” even if opinions are contested, rejected or disliked â€” becomes even more essential to safeguard the public interest and protect democracy. UNAMI expresses its expectation that the amendment of this decision will be made possible at the earliest convenience," the U.N. organisation said in a statement.
"Using the Iraqi 'war on terror' media guidelines to shut down Al Jazeera is a blatant attempt to put pressure on the network to report only one side of a story in a country that struggles to provide any protection to journalists on the ground," said International Federation of Journalists President Jim Boumelha in a statement. "The CMC decision is biased and deeply prejudicial in a country that badly needs a free press. We call for the reopening of the station's operation right away."
In 2014, the CMC had issued guidelines that mandated reporting that put government forces in favourable light.
Al Jazeera has been pulled up by the CMC repeatedly for showing the government in a negative light and favouring ISIS, according to AFP. The news network started by the Royal family of Qatar and the country has been criticised by Iraqi leaders for supporting dissent in Iraq, Reuters reported.
The news network in its statement said the latest move "contradicts the promises of the Iraqi government to protect freedom of speech," while adding that it was hopeful the operations in the Baghdad office would resume soon.