Independent news website repeatedly blocked in reprisal for free speech advocacy

Expression

On 30th November access to the website of Doha News, the only independent news website in Qatar, was blocked. The media outlet then launched a second domain, which was also blocked shortly afterwards. 

As previously reported by Human Rights Watch, last October Doha News had published an editorial calling on the authorities to amend provisions of the 2014 Cybercrime Law to “preserve free speech and protect journalism in the country.” The article quoted a local lawyer saying that Qatar’s Cybercrime Law was “a tool of intimidation” and “like a knife held close to the necks of writers, activists and journalists.” The 2014 law criminalises spreading “false news” on the Internet and imposes a maximum of three years in prison for anyone convicted of posting online content that “violates social values or principles” or “insults or slanders others." According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the law is inconsistent with international standards because it provides the government with powers to punish anyone who posts or shares content which are determined by officials to be inconsistent with Qatar’s “social values.” This is not the first time Doha news has been targeted by the Qatari authorities: last July Qatari authorities reportedly detained a Doha News journalist overnight after a person convicted of a serious crime complained about an article that he claimed had harmed his reputation.

Following the latest blocking of the Doha News website, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) released a statement urging the Qatari government to restore full public access to all news outlets in the country, lift all restrictions on the press, and amend the Cybercrimes Law and Penal Code in line with international human rights standards. As stated by ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla:

“If the Qatari authorities are responsible for this restriction, this move is a significant breach on freedom of the press in the country. [...] The authorities should reverse these restrictions immediately and ensure the fundamental right to free expression and the press.”
Tags: censorship