IFJ Says Journalist Facing Death Sentence Is Victim of "Arab Media War"

The International Federation of Journalists today appealed to the Government in Qatar to lift a death sentence imposed on a journalist said to be "caught in the crossfire of a media war" between Jordan and Qatar.

Jordanian journalist Firas Majali was sentenced to death on Tuesday after he was convicted on a charge of spying for Jordan, but the IFJ says that he appears to be a victim of tension between the two Arab states over the work of Qatar-based al-Jazeera television, which reported the sentencing.

Al Jazeera reported that Majali, who was arrested in January, has 15 days to appeal. Qatar prosecutors said in September that Majali had provided Jordan with information on the status of U.S. troops in Qatar, along with economic and social data. About 3,000 U.S. troops are based in Qatar.

"There are plenty of reasons to doubt the validity of the spying charge and much to suggest that journalism itself is under attack," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "This journalist is caught in the crossfire of a bad-tempered dispute over media freedom."

Qatar and Jordan are in dispute over the work of the controversial al-Jazeera satellite channel. Many Arab states are angry at the work of the station, which has developed a reputation for professionalism and challenging reporting of Arab world affairs. Jordan recalled its ambassador to Qatar two months ago in a row over a programme broadcast by al-Jazeera that was seen as an affront to the Hashemite ruling family and this week the Jordanian authorities closed the local Amman office of the broadcaster.

"The issues here are by no means clear," said Aidan White, "what is needed is a cooling off period and the immediate lifting of this death sentence."