Iraqi authorities have suspended the licenses of the pan-Arabic television network al-Jazeera and nine other satellite television operations, after accusing them of inciting sectarian violence.
The suspensions, announced Sunday and effective immediately, come as Baghdad seeks to curb rising unrest spawned by clashes at a Sunni protest camp last week. At least 170 people have been killed in the fighting since Tuesday. A statement from Qatar-based al-Jazeera said it was astonished by the suspension, saying it covers all sides of news stories in Iraq.
The suspension decree stops short of blocking the networks’ satellite signals. But it warns of legal action from security forces if any of the networks deploy reporters inside the country.
A statement Sunday from the Communications and Media Commission accuses the networks of encouraging what it calls “criminal acts of revenge” against security forces deployed by the Shi’ite-led government to quell the violence.
Most of the channels, including local stations such as “al-Sharqiya” and “Baghdad” are pro-Sunni and frequently critical of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.
Last year, Iraqi media regulators ordered the closure of more than 40 media outlets, including the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation.