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Al Jazeera decries blocking of channels, bureau closures

MANILA, Philippines – Al Jazeera on Wednesday, June 8, denounced the blocking of its channels and closure of its bureaus in several Arab countries, in connection with the ongoing diplomatic crisis involving its home country Qatar.

The company's Riyadh office was closed and the network's operating license in Saudi Arabia was revoked after the kingdom and several other Arab states severed ties with the emirate on Monday, June 5.

Jordan also said on Tuesday it was withdrawing licenses for the Amman bureau of the Doha-based television news channel.

In a statement, the Al Jazeera Media Network said it is "deeply concerned following measures taken by certain countries in the region to block access to the Networks’ websites, without any justification."

"Authorities in these countries blocked Al Jazeera websites, on the pretext that ‘content does not comply with the standards of the regulatory authorities’; providing no further details on the content or news resulting in this block," the company said.

The company's channels were also "removed from subscription bundles in a number of distribution platforms in Middle East and a few Arab countries."

Despite this, the Doha-based network said it "reaffirms its stance of respecting the principles and standards of freedom of opinion and expression entitled by the International Human Rights law to seek and disseminate information."

The network also said it is a victim of "political regimes-led smear campaigns," saying that some media organizations in countries that blocked them are "encouraging" hate speech.

"Al Jazeera Media Network believes that the policy of blocking and banning websites has become outdated in the open space era since the digital platforms have already become available for all everywhere," the company added.

Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday condemned Saudi Arabia's move, saying that Al Jazeera was a "collateral victim of (the) diplomatic offensive against Qatar."

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on June 5 announced they were severing all ties with Qatar over its alleged support to extremism.

Egypt followed suit, and Jordan lowered the level of its diplomatic representation in Doha.

"Closing Al Jazeera's bureaux is a political decision that amounts to censoring this TV broadcaster," said RSF's Middle East chief Alexandra El Khazen in a statement.

Al Jazeera, one of the largest news organisations in the world, has long been a source of conflict between Qatar and its neighbours, who accuse the broadcaster of bias and fomenting trouble in the region.

Cairo has accused Al Jazeera of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood which it blames for violence after Egypt's military ousted the movement from power in 2013.

Three Al Jazeera journalists, including a Canadian and an Australian, were detained in Egypt between 2013 and 2015, triggering international protests. – with reports from Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com