Iraq has suspended the licences of 10 satellite television channels, including Al Jazeera, for promoting violence and sectarianism, according to a senior official at the country’s media watchdog.
Sunday’s announcement came as the country held funerals for five soldiers killed by armed men during anti-government protests in the mainly Sunni city of Ramadi, just hours after authorities said they had arrested three suspects.
“We took a decision to suspend the licence of some satellite channels that adopted language encouraging violence and sectarianism,” Mujahid Abu al-Hail of the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) said on Sunday.
“It means stopping their work in Iraq and their activities, so they cannot cover events in Iraq or move around.”
The CMC said it believes that “the rhetoric and substance coverage” by Baghdad, Al Sharqiyah, Al Sharqiyah News, Babylonian, Salah al-Din, Anwar 2, al Tagheer, Fallujah, Al Jazeera and Al Gharbiyah, all TV channels that operate in the region, were “provocative, misleading and exaggerated with the objective of disturbing the civil and democratic process”.
Responding to the accusation, Al Jazeera said in a statement: “We are astonished by this development. We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once though suggests this is an indiscriminate decision.
“We urge the authorities to uphold freedom for the media to report the important stories taking place in Iraq.”
Iraq is experiencing a wave of violence that began on Tuesday, with clashes between security forces and Sunni Arab protesters in the north that has killed more than 215 people so far.
The killings of the soldiers whose funerals were held on Sunday happened after security forces allegedly killed more than 170 protesters over the last week in attempts to crush demonstrations in numerous other cities, including Fallujah and Mosul.
The protesters have called for the resignation of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, and criticised authorities for allegedly targeting the Sunni community, including what they say are wrongful detentions and accusations of involvement in terrorism.
The violence is the deadliest so far linked to demonstrations that broke out in Sunni-dominated areas of the Shia-majority country more than four months ago.