DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A popular independent online news outlet in Qatar said Thursday that its website has been blocked without explanation, prompting concerns of tightening limits on expression inside the 2022 World Cup host nation.
Doha News said its site was blocked the previous day, apparently and simultaneously by the Gulf country’s two internet service providers. They later halted access to an alternate site set up as a workaround.
The English-language news outlet said the nature of the shutdown suggests it was deliberately blocked on order of Qatari authorities.
“We are incredibly disappointed with this decision, which appears to be an act of censorship,” it said.
The site remained accessible outside Qatar.
Qatar’s two internet service providers, Ooredoo and Vodafone, did not respond to requests for comment. The government communications office did not either.
The Communications Regulatory Authority, a watchdog body established in a decree by the hereditary ruling emir, said in a brief emailed response to The Associated Press only that it “does not block any content.”
Qatar has faced heightened scrutiny from foreign media organizations and human rights group as it prepares to host soccer’s World Cup, particularly over its treatment of its large migrant worker population.
Qatar is home to international broadcaster Al-Jazeera, which has been a vocal champion of press freedom. The network saw three of its journalists jailed in Egypt in 2013 and has had its operations curtailed elsewhere by authorities unhappy with its reporting over the years.
Journalists operating inside Qatar do face limits, however, and at times have been detained. As in other Gulf countries, websites deemed offensive by authorities are blocked.
London-based Amnesty International blasted the blocking of Doha News as an “alarming setback for freedom of expression” in the wealthy OPEC member nation.
“Deliberately blocking people in Qatar from accessing a legitimate news website would be an outright attack on media freedom,” said James Lynch, the group’s deputy director for global issues.
U.S.-based press watchdog Freedom House describes the media environment in Qatar as “not free.”
Its most recent report on the country said journalists face significant restrictions and can be prosecuted for “criticizing the Qatari government, the ruling family or Islam.”
As a result, “the overall landscape encourages a high level of self-censorship,” it said.
Doha News website: http://dohanews.co/
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