Qatari authorities block news site locally

Sunday 11/12/2016
A trader uses his smartphone to follow news at Qatar Stock Exchange in Doha, Qatar, November 9th, 2016. (Reuters)

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 — — 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 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.