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Qatar accused of censorship after Doha News website blocked

Doha News has been unavailable to readers in Qatar since Wednesday [AFP]

Date of publication: 1 December, 2016

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Authorities and ISP providers remain silent after an independent Qatari news outlet is 'deliberately censored' in a surprise move.
Doha News, an independent news site based in Qatar, on Wednesday accused the Gulf state of blocking access to its website. 

The website, which says it has a monthly readership of around one million, used an alternative domain name after the initial block on November 30, but this was eventually barred too.

"We can only conclude that our website has been deliberately targeted and blocked by Qatar authorities," Doha News said in a statement. "We are incredibly disappointed with this decision, which appears to be an act of censorship."

The website's owners also received no prior warning about concerns over content, the statement added. Government officials and the country's two internet service providers, Ooredoo and Vodaphone Qatar, have yet to comment.

Under Qatar's 2014 Cyber Crimes Law, authorities can ban websites that they deem to be threatening to the country's safety. Individuals may also be prosecuted for online posts that are judged to undermine Qatar's "social values or general order".

Doha News published an article in August in which an anonymous writer spoke of some of the struggles of being gay in Qatar, where sodomy laws mean that homosexual acts are punishable by up to three years in prison.

The news website also carried an editorial in October that two months ago alleged that Qatar's Cyber Crimes Law was being used to "silence" people.

The move against Doha News goes against Qatar's reputation for media investment and the promotion of free press in the Middle East - most notably for its hosting and funding of the al-Jazeera news network. 

Many social media users around the world have taken to Twitter to express their frustration at the blocking of Doha news, using the hashtag #حظر_موقع_دوحة_نيوز (Doha News website ban). 

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has criticised the move, calling it an "alarming setback for freedom of expression in the country".

"Deliberately blocking people in Qatar from accessing a legitimate news website would be an outright attack on media freedom," said James Lynch, Amnesty's Deputy Director for Global Issues.

"As the nation that founded the al-Jazeera media network and which hosts a centre dedicated to promoting global media freedom, Qatar should be at the forefront of those championing freedom of the press."

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