Human rights defenders, journalists and activists gather in Doha to discuss means to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The President of the National Human Rights Committee, Dr. Ali bin Samih al-Marri called on the international community to take moral and legal responsibility towards the violations carried out against Qatari people and citizens in the Gulf Cooperation Council states (GCC) as a result of the blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi-led coalition, saying it’s not acceptable to punish civilians and journalists simply because of a political dispute.
Al Marri was speaking today at the opening of an international conference in Doha aimed at discussing and promoting freedom of expression co-organized by the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar, International Federation of Journalists and International Press Institute and held under the title “Freedom of expression: facing up to the threat”.
Dr. Al Marri criticized demands by the Saud Arabia and the countries imposing the blockade on Qatar saying that the call to shut down some media outlets, including Al Jazeera, represent a serious threat to freedom of the press and a direct attack on all values.
Press freedom situation is troubling!
In his speech at the opening of the conference, John Yearwood, President of the International Press Institute (IPI), said that press freedom situation is so disturbing and the number of journalists who lost their lives in line of duty continues to climb, with 51 journalists killed this year so far and 83 killed last year including almost 20 who were deliberately targeted.
Yearwood also questioned the demand to shut down Al Jazeera saying that “the Saudi-led coalition’s call for the Al Jazeera news to be shut down is an example of the challenges journalist are facing in the region.”
“Thankfully, the reaction was so swift and that the draconian demand appears to have been rescinded. The withdrawal of that demand is indicative of what can happen when we all work together. The quick condemnation from press freedom and human rights organizations made a big difference” he added
“We must continue to speak truth to power even when it’s inconvenient. We can all learn from how Al Jazeera stood up to the Saudi-led coalition. It did not wobble and neither should we” said Yearwood.
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the current Gulf crisis is an opportunity for Qatar to be a genuine human rights leader in the region. He expressed his beliefs that Al Jazeera had been a major force in the region to “challenge the autocratic rule that remains the norm in most of the Middle East”.
“Al Jazeera was and continued to be the nightmare for dictators.” Said Roth.
Roth questioned Saudi Arabia’s accusation of Qatar funding terrorism while the Kingdom itself continues to carry out “terrorism that is killing people in Yemen”
“We don’t talk about government terrorism such as the Saudi-led coalition that is killing people in Yemen,” he said
Speakers also called for the solidarity and protection for journalists around the world who face persecution and repression.
The two-day conference opens in Doha today in the presence of many human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and diplomats from more than 200 organizations around the world.