Call to close Al Jazeera 'attack' on free speech
The UN has voiced outrage over Gulf countries' demand to shut down Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera, describing it as "an unacceptable attack on the right to freedom of expression and opinion."
The closure of the broadcaster along with the London-based The New Arab (al-Araby al-Jadeed), is one of 13 wide-ranging demands placed on Doha by Saudi Arabia and its allies for the price of lifting an almost month-long blockade on Qatar.
The four countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – have given Qatar a 10-day deadline for agreeing to the demands, ending on July 4.
UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein "is extremely concerned by the demand that Qatar close down the Al Jazeera network, as well as other affiliated media outlets," his spokesman Rupert Colville said in a statement.
"Whether or not you watch it, like it, or agree with its editorial standpoints, Al Jazeera's Arabic and English channels are legitimate, and have many millions of viewers," he said.
"The demand that they be summarily closed down is, in our view, an unacceptable attack on the right to freedom of expression and opinion."
Colville stressed that countries that take issue with items broadcast on other countries' television channels, "are at liberty to publicly debate and dispute them."
"To insist that such channels be shut down is extraordinary, unprecedented and clearly unreasonable," he said.
He warned that if Qatar goes ahead and shuts down Al Jazeera, "it would open a Pandora's Box of powerful individual states or groups of states seriously undermining the right to freedom of expression and opinion in other states, as well as in their own."
With the support of its allies, the Saudis announced on June 5 they were suspending all ties with Qatar, accusing it of support for extremist groups – a claim Doha vehemently denies.
They closed their airspace to Qatari carriers and blocked the emirate's only land border, a vital route for its food imports.
They also ordered all Qataris to leave and their own nationals to return home.
And after Riyadh last week laid down its list of demands for Qatar, the UAE warned the country should take them seriously or face "divorce" from its Gulf neighbours.