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To Those Who Support a Free Press

Al Jazeera published an open letter in today’s New York Times expressing its shock and alarm on the threat to bomb its headquarters by high ranking Saudi journalists.

Violence against journalists needs to be stopped FreePress

To Those Who Support a Free Press

 

Dear Reader,

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the Vicario brothers spend an entire night wandering their town, telling everyone they encounter of their intention to kill Santiago Nasar, who, they say, has threatened their family’s honor.

 

But none of the townsfolk step up to restrain the brothers – by the next day, the gruesome deed is done.

 

Today we write as senior journalists of the Al Jazeera Media Network, an independent international news organization. We write to alert you to a similarly foretold tragedy: We have become the subject of a credible death threat.

 

Sadly, it’s not the first time.

 

Last week, a high-ranking Saudi journalist with close ties to the Kingdom’s top decision makers used his Twitter feed to advocate for an air strike on Al Jazeera’s headquarters by the Saudi-UAE coalition, which for more than four years has been raining death from the skies on many thousands of Yemenis.

 

Former Al Arabiya Director Khaled al-Matrafi concluded on Twitter that Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar’s capital, Doha, was “a legitimate and logical target” of the coalition bombing Yemen. Al Arabiya is a state-run Saudi media network.

 

Two years ago, Al Arabiya General Manager Abdulrahman al-Rashed warned that if Qatar did not “wave the white flag” to the Saudi-led blockade imposed against it, Al Jazeera staff would be massacred like the 1,000 Egyptian protesters killed at Cairo’s Rabaa Square in 2013.

 

Documents released by WikiLeaks in 2011 revealed that Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, had urged the United States to bomb Al Jazeera’s headquarters during the US invasion of Afghanistan, and later called on the US to “rein in Al Jazeera.”

 

This pattern of behavior is deeply disturbing.

 

If Saudi authorities had tweeted their intention to murder and dismember dissident Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the threat would have sounded so preposterous few would have taken it seriously.

 

We are now all too aware of the lengths to which Saudi Arabia’s decision makers are willing to go to silence independent journalism.

 

Also notable is the failure of governments worldwide to impose any consequences on those who ordered the murder and mutilation of Mr. Khashoggi. So the suggestion that civilized international norms would restrain Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners from a dramatic escalation of its war on the press by attacking Al Jazeera does not reassure us.

 

The men and women of Al Jazeera make up one of the world’s most diverse and multinational newsrooms 

(approximately 94 nationalities in all), producing quality content in multiple languages on more than 20 platforms. We and our families have chosen to work for Al Jazeera because it enables us to deliver high-quality journalism, day in and day out.

 

The price of our commitment to Al Jazeera and its journalism has risen steadily over the years. We have seen our colleagues in the field jailed, tortured and killed by regimes and forces hostile to the independent scrutiny that is indispensable to any democratic society.

 

We have seen air strikes hit our bureaus in Kabul, Baghdad and Gaza. We have seen truth-phobic regimes close down our operations in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan.

 

If our headquarters has long served as a sanctuary from the perils of front-line journalism, that has begun to change since the blockade imposed on Qatar by the Saudi-UAE bloc in the hope of bullying Qatar into compliance with its foreign policies and demanding it shutter Al Jazeera.

 

The blockade and its attendant threats - including a planned invasion of Qatar that US officials reportedly prevented- have exacted a terrible psychological toll on those of us who work here and our families.

 

Now, the threats of violence are intensifying and the horrific track record of those inciting violence against Al Jazeera staffers forces us to take these threats seriously.

 

Earlier this week, the publisher of this newspaper took the President of the United States to task for crossing a dangerous line in the rhetoric the President has been using against this newspaper’s journalists. He was right to do so.

 

Now we appeal to you, from a network headquarters targeted for attack by the same forces that killed Mr. Khashoggi, to take a stand and demand that violence against journalists be stopped.

 

A threat to one of us is a threat to all of us.

Sincerely,

 

The Journalists and Families of Al Jazeera Media Network