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Iraqi TV station faces month-long ban after protest coverage

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Baghdad (AFP)

Iraqi authorities have ordered the closure for a month of Al-Dijla television, which has aired intensive coverage of anti-government protests in recent months, media and police sources told AFP Tuesday.

"Interior ministry forces fully shut down Al-Dijla's offices in Baghdad last night and respectfully asked the staff to leave," a source from the broadcaster told AFP.

An interior ministry official confirmed that security forces had stormed the offices in the Jadiriyah neighbourhood of east Baghdad late on Monday.

At least 80 employees work at the Baghdad bureau and another 50 work at the station's headquarters in Amman, from where it broadcasts.

The Al-Dijla employee, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press, said the main office had been ordered by Jordanian authorities to stop broadcasting for a month.

"The Iraqi government requested from Jordan that it halt the station's broadcasting for a month based on an Iraqi complaint," the source said.

Starting Monday, the frequency on which Al-Dijla typically broadcasts has showed a still image of its logo.

Al-Dijlah has provided daily coverage of the anti-government protests sweeping Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since October 1, despite pressure on its staff.

Its Baghdad office was raided in the first week of rallies and on January 10, one of its correspondents and his cameraman were gunned down in the southern city of Basra.

Before he was killed, correspondent Ahmad Abdessamad, 37, said he had been threatened by Iraqi armed groups because he criticised powerful neighbour Iran in his coverage.

On January 20, Al-Dijla's leading anchorman Nabil Jassem got into an on-air dispute with the prime minister's spokesman for military issues Abdelkarim Khalaf.

Khalaf declined to respond to a question from Jassem about the number of casualties in protest-related violence, and the two accused each other of being disrespectful before Khalaf walked off the set.

In reaction to the shutdown, Al-Dijla administrative head Jamal al-Karbuli tweeted late Monday: "Al-Dijla pays the price for truth."

Haidar al-Maytham, a member of the Iraqi National Syndicate for Journalists, told AFP on Tuesday that authorities had taken issue with Al-Dijla's "politics".

"There are political disagreements and differences of opinion between the channel's administration and Iraqi officials, which led to the decision (to shut it down)," Maytham said.

Major powers and advocacy groups have called on Iraq to do more to ensure media freedom and protect journalists covering the protests.

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