UN calls Qatar neighbours' call to close Al-Jazeera TV an 'unacceptable attack'


UN human rights commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has condemned Saudi and other Arab countries' calls for broadcaster Al-Jazeera to be shut down.

The countries have accused Qatar of funding terrorism.

The closure of the broadcaster is one of 13 wide-ranging demands placed on Doha by Saudi Arabia and its allies Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as the price for lifting an almost month long blockade. The four countries gave Qatar until Tuesday to comply with their demands.

"Whether or not you watch it, like it, or agree with its editorial standpoints, Al-Jazeera's Arabic and English channels are legitimate and have many millions of viewers," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR).

Demands to shut down the broadcaster represent an "unacceptable attack on the right to freedom of expression and opinion," the UNHCR said last Friday. 

Colville stressed that countries were "at liberty to publicly debate and dispute them," but "to insist that such channels be shut down is extraordinary, unprecedented and clearly unreasonable."

Al-Jazeera was set up in 1996 after the BBC's Arabic-language channel closed. Doha has denied extremism but remains a key patron of the Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip. Qatar has also been accused of being too closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamist groups.

Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has called on the United States to help resolve the dispute.

"The American role is vital as all parties to the conflict are allies of Washington," Mohammed said at the Washington-based Arab Center, according to the Qatari Foreign Ministry.

U.S. President Donald Trump has backed the Arab boycott of Qatar, but his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, last week called for the countries to sit down and work out their differences. 

Qatar's defence minister, Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah and his Turkish counterpart, Fikri Isik, were to meet last Friday in Ankara to discuss the closure of the Turkish military base. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the Saudi list of demands "disrespectful" and said Turkey would not seek permission from others over its defence co-operation agreements.     (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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