Human Rights Watch has called on the Iraqi government to reverse its decision and allow Al-Jazeera's Baghdad bureau to reopen, saying its closure was "nothing but an effort to clamp down on freedom of expression."
Last week, Iraq's Communications and Media Commission revoked the news agency's license, closing its office for one year after accusing it of "inciting sectarianism and violence" and violating rules regulating media coverage of "the war on terror."
In its statement, HRW called on Iraqi authorities to "immediately allow Al- Jazeera to resume its work, or spell out exactly how and when the station incited violence."
Iraqi authorities have long perceived Al-Jazeera's media coverage as hostile to Iraq's Shi'ite majority and too friendly toward Islamic State. The Al-Jazeera Media Network denied violating the rules, maintaining it has consistently provided professional and objective coverage.
"Iraqis have a right to hear a variety of perspectives on current events," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Closing down a prominent international network on the basis of vague and unsubstantiated allegations smacks of political motivation to shut out uncomfortable criticism, and it’s an action that should be immediately reversed."
The closure comes a month after Iraq's Communications and Media Commission shut down the Cairo-based Al-Baghdadia TV for allegedly operating illegally and without a license.
HRW reports, however, that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the closure was due to the channel’s “incitement,” specifically the coverage of demonstrators who broke into the heavily fortified International Zone.
Iraqi authorities have banned Al-Jazeera from reporting in the country on three occasions. In 2013,the news agency was prohibited from reporting on a military crackdown allegedly on Sunni Muslims. Iraq imposed the ban after accusing Al-Jazeera's TV stations of promoting banned terrorists groups who committed crimes on Iraqis.