Iraq suspends 10 TV channels for 'sectarianism'

Iraq suspended the licences of 10 satellite television channels, including Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, for promoting violence and sectarianism, an official from the country's media regulator said Sunday.

"We took a decision to suspend the licence of some satellite channels that adopted language encouraging violence and sectarianism," Mujahid Abu al-Hail, a top official from the Communications and Media Commission, told AFP.

"It means stopping their work in Iraq and their activities, so they cannot cover events in Iraq or move around," he said.

The suspended channels included pan-Arab network Al-Jazeera and Sharqiya, a leading Iraqi station.

"We're astonished by this development. We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done (so) for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once, though, suggests this is an indiscriminate decision," an Al-Jazeera spokesman told AFP.

"We urge the authorities to uphold freedom for the media to report the important stories taking place in Iraq," the spokesman added.

The move comes after a wave of violence that began on Tuesday with clashes between security forces and Sunni Arab protesters in northern Iraq that has killed more than 215 people.

The violence is the deadliest so far linked to demonstrations that broke out in Sunni areas of the Shiite-majority country more than four months ago.

Sunni protesters have called for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's resignation, railing against the government for alleged abuses against their community, including what they say are wrongful detentions and accusations of involvement in terrorism.