Qatari authorities block news site locally
London - A popular Qatari-based news website has been blocked by authorities locally in an apparent licensing dispute that has the site — Doha News — alleging censorship.
The editors of Doha News, an independent English-language site, said they were surprised when their site was blocked by authorities on November 30th. “Our URL — dohanews.co — was apparently blocked by both of Qatar’s internet service providers, Ooredoo and Vodafone, simultaneously,” a statement by the publication said.
Readers were directed to an alternate hosting address but authorities in Doha blocked that web address as well.
“We can only conclude that our website has been deliberately targeted and blocked by Qatar authorities,” the Doha News statement said. It called the decision to block the site disappointing and an “act of censorship”.
The 8-year-old news site, which reportedly has a monthly readership of 1 million unique users, has been forced to scale down its operation until the matter is resolved.
“In the interest of protecting our team, we will be reducing the number of articles we publish until we can resolve the problem and get dohanews.co unblocked,” a statement on its website said.
“At the same time, we reject the idea that our news website should be blocked over licensing concerns. This is a clear act of censorship and a fairly unprecedented one in Qatar,” Doha News added.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom said it determined that the blocking of Doha News was not due to censor but was a matter of registration and licensing.
“The measures taken against Doha News were due to the failure to comply with the legal procedures required by the authorities for providing licences in accordance with the laws and regulations of Qatar,” a senior unnamed official told the organisation.
The blocking of Doha News caught the attention of international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International.
“This is an alarming setback for freedom of expression in the country. Deliberately blocking people in Qatar from accessing a legitimate news website would be an outright attack on media freedom,” James Lynch, Amnesty International’s deputy director for global issues, said in a statement.
“As the nation that founded the Al Jazeera media network and which hosts a centre dedicated to promoting global media freedom, Qatar should be at the forefront of those championing freedom of the press,” he added.
According to Agence France- Presse, Doha News carried an editorial two months ago alleging that Qatar’s cybercrime law was being used to “silence” people.
A side effect of the “Arab spring” protests in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 has been the adoption of tougher media laws in several Arab countries, characterised with vague wording, blurring lines between freedom of expression and matters of national security.
Although Qatar was not directly affected by “Arab spring”-inspired protests, it introduced in 2014 a cybercrimes law that allows the government to block websites it considers dangerous and gives it the right to punish anyone who publishes online content that “undermines” Qatar’s “social values” or “general order”.
In November, the editor-in-chief of Qatar’s Arabic language daily Al Sharq resigned from his post after 12 years due to what he said were “personal reasons”. However, reports in the Saudi media said Jaber Salim al-Harmi’s resignation was tied to a comment he made on social media that appeared to upset officials in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
“Other countries slash their citizens’ salaries, while Qatar increases wages. We thank Allah Almighty first and foremost, then we thank our leadership that uses national resources for its people’s welfare,” Harmi wrote on his official Twitter account, during a time most of the GCC states were considering austerity measures.
In 2015, Qatari authorities briefly detained foreign journalists whose reporting on the living conditions of migrant workers caused an international uproar.