Iraq media suspensions draw international criticism

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The United Nations and Human Rights Watch called on Iraq on Tuesday to rescind its suspension of the licenses of 10 satellite TV channels, a move that bars them from working in the country.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also criticized the decision by the Communications and Media Commission, Iraq's media regulator, to suspended the channels for allegedly “encouraging violence and sectarianism.”

“Press freedom is a fundamental pillar of democracy, one that the United Nations takes very seriously,” U.N. envoy Martin Kobler said in a statement. “I urge the Commission to fully respect its commitment to press freedom.”

Human Rights Watch condemned the suspensions, saying “Iraq's media commission should immediately reverse the license suspensions for 10 satellite television stations and allow them to continue broadcasting.”

“The authorities have admitted that there was no legal basis for their decision, which looks more suspicious given the government's history of cracking down on opposition media, particularly during protests,” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, said in a statement.

The suspensions came during a wave of violence that began on April 23 with deadly clashes between security forces and Sunni anti-government protesters.

Dozens more were killed in subsequent violence, bringing the death toll to more than 240 in seven days and raising fears of a return to all-out sectarian conflict that plagued Iraq in past years and left tens of thousands dead.

The suspended channels included pan-Arab network Al-Jazeera and Sharqiya, a leading Iraqi station.

“We took a decision to suspend the license of some satellite channels that adopted language encouraging violence and sectarianism,” Mujahid Abu al-Hail, a top official from the CMC, told AFP on Sunday.

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

RSF has also slammed the suspensions, saying in a statement on Monday that “this draconian and disproportionate decision has seriously endangered freedom of information.”

The CMC should “quickly rescind this decision and to allow the media to cover all developments of general interest throughout the country,” RSF said.

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