The Iraqi Governing Council raided the offices of Al Arabiya television Monday, banned its broadcasts from Iraq and threatened to imprison its journalists, accusing the network of inciting violence by broadcasting an audiotape attributed to ousted President Saddam Hussein.
Jalal Talabani, who holds the U.S.-appointed council's rotating presidency, said the satellite channel violated the law. "Al Arabiya broadcast in Saddam's voice an invitation to kill members of the Governing Council. Saddam in our eyes is a criminal, a torturer, a war criminal, and whoever disseminates [information] for him exposes himself to legal punishment," Talabani said.
Al Arabiya, which has broadcast several tapes purportedly from Hussein calling for U.S.-led occupation forces to be driven out of Iraq, denied the charges.
"Al Arabiya regrets this measure and rejects the accusation of promoting violence," it said in a statement.
"It stresses that in its news coverage it has abided by and continues to abide by policies of neutrality and objectivity."
Iraqi police delivered a warrant ordering Al Arabiya's Iraq offices closed soon after Talabani spoke.
The CIA said the quality of the tape, broadcast Nov. 16, was so poor that it could not reach any conclusion about the speaker's identity.
The station said it would continue to report on Iraq from its headquarters in the city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
Ali Khattib, an Iraqi correspondent for the channel in Baghdad, said, "This action means there's no difference between the time of Saddam and today."
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the closure, saying Hussein's words are newsworthy. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher defended the ban, saying its aim was "to avoid a situation where these media are used as a channel for incitement."