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Thu 8 Dec 2016 01:54 PM

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Rights group says Doha News blockage 'sad and disappointing'

Human Rights Watch says move undermines Qatar’s attempts to present itself as a centre for media freedom

Rights group says Doha News blockage 'sad and disappointing'
(AFP/Getty Images)

A move by Qatari authorities to block Doha News, the country’s only independent news website, is a move that undermines Qatar’s attempts to present itself as a centre for media freedom in the Gulf region, Human Rights Watch has said.

Doha News has been publishing news about Qatar online for six years, but on November 30, authorities ordered Qatar’s two internet service providers, Vodafone and Ooredoo, to block the site, making it inaccessible to internet users in Qatar.

A Doha News spokesperson told Human Rights Watch that Qatari authorities said that the site’s reporting had upset “several” unnamed government ministries and cited concerns over its failure to formally register in Qatar.

“Doha News’s ability to report independently on important issues was unique in the Gulf region, and Qataris and non-Qataris alike benefited from its smart and sensitive coverage,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“It’s sad and disappointing that the Qatari authorities have shown themselves to be as thin-skinned as their hyper-sensitive neighbours in the region.”

Human Rights Watch's outrage at Qatar's decision to block Doha News follows similar criticism last week from Amnesty International which said it was an "alarming setback for freedom of expression in the country".

The rights group said Doha News is registered and hosted in the United States, but its journalists live and work in Qatar.

It added that a spokesperson for Doha News described the decision to block the website as “a heavy-handed attempt to get us to fall in line with other local media outlets and stymie any attempts at critical reporting in the country".

The spokesperson added: "There are no two ways around the fact that the government has chosen to block access to the site because they aren’t happy with everything that we publish. And that amounts to censorship.”