Al-Jazeera blocks article slamming Saudi Arabian human rights record

Al-Jazeera is partly funded by the House of Thani - the ruling family of Qatar

Alexandra Sims
Saturday 19 December 2015 14:29
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The newsroom at the headquarters of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel in Doha
The newsroom at the headquarters of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel in Doha

The Qatar-based news network, Al-Jazeera, has prevented an article slamming human rights in Saudi Arabia from being viewed outside the US.

The article, titled “Saudi Arabia Uses Terrorism as an Excuse for Human Rights Abuses” and published on Al-Jazeera America’s website on 3 December, cites reports 50 people are intended to be executed for alleged terrorist crimes, injustices in the treatment of Saudi’s minority Shia population and criticises the country’s relationship with the US.

The article is understood to still be available in the US, but when viewed in other countries is replaced with an error page.

A tweet from Al-Jazeera America’s account with the article’s headline, pictured on a Bahraini website, appears to have been deleted, while the Saudi Arabian newspaper Okaz quotes Al-Jazeera's director apologising for the article, The Intercept reports.

The article, written by Arjun Sethi, a human rights lawyer and professor of law at George Town University, has been reprinted by The Intercept.

Many of the criticisms in Mr Sethi’s piece have been internationally reported in the media. They include a sharp increase in Saudi executions this year - according to Amnesty International over 150 people have been killed in 2015; the sentencing to death of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh for “apostasy”; and allegations Saudi Arabian air strikes in Yemen have killed civilians.

Mr Sethi also critiques the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US, writing: “Saudi Arabia often escapes moral condemnation in large part because of its close relationship with the US."

Mr Sethi refers to the blocked article on Twitter saying: “I’m not afraid of the Saudi regime. The only thing I am afraid of is my conscience. I will not submit to censorship.”

Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based state-funded broadcaster launched in 1996, has gained credibility for its seemingly independent news coverage.

The news network is now one of the largest in the world with 80 bureaus across the globe.

It is partly funded by the House of Thani, the ruling family of Qatar, and assertions from Al-Jazeera officials that the organisation is editorially independent from the Qatar government have been contested.

According to The Economist, Al-Jazeera has been criticised by Arab viewers for bolstering its coverage of Qatari-backed rebel fighters in Libya and Syria and the Qatar-aligned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It has also been accused of ignoring human-rights abuses by those same rebels.

In 2013, 22 Al-Jazeera staff in Egypt resigned over the organization's supposed bias toward the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Qatar monarchy, ruled by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is allied with Saudi Arabia against the Syrian government and is part of Saudi Arabia’s campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Referring to the article, Al-Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha told The Intercept: “After hearing from users from different locations across the world that several of our web pages were unavailable, we have begun investigating what the source of the problem may be and we hope to have it resolved shortly.”

The Independent has contacted Al-Jazeera and Al-Jazeera America for comment.

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