Ridley axeing not down to US' says Al-Jazeera

Ridley: plans to sue Al-Jazeera for two years’ wages

Arab news service Al-Jazeera has refuted accusations that it caved in to US pressure by sacking Yvonne Ridley.

Ridley, the senior editor of its English-language internet service, came to international prominence two years ago when, while reporting for the Sunday Express, she was held hostage by the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan. She later converted to Islam and moved to Qatar this summer to head up Al-Jazeera’s new website.

Ridley declined to comment but directed Press Gazette to her lawyers, who plan to sue Al-Jazeera for the two years of wages remaining on her contract.

Her lawyer, Katrina Wilson of Gebran Magdalany, said: “She [Ridley] was visited at home by a secretary and told that her employment had been terminated.”

She said that, under Qatar law Ridley may have a claim for compensation if she was dismissed without good reason. Since her religious conversion, Ridley has become a highprofile figure in the Muslim world.

London-based Muslim campaigner Dr Muhammad Al-Massari said: “Her anti-Bush views are universally known and there are fears among colleagues that her vocal criticisms of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan may have led to her demise.”

In an e-mail circular, he urged fellow Muslims to “stand staunchly by her side – at least we should demand answers from Al-Jazeera as to why she was sacked”.

According to insiders, certain stories which have appeared on the Al-Jazeera website have been particularly unpopular in the US. Most recently it carried pictures of American soldiers apparently using hand restraints on a seven-year-old Iraqi girl.

Ridley has been an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq and has made speeches on the same platform as MP George Galloway denouncing US policy.

Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said: “Her superior has decided that she is not great for the set-up – there’s been a divergence of views and she was asked to leave. It was nothing to do with any US pressure.”

While at Al-Jazeera, Ridley set up the first NUJ journalists branch in the Arab world and persuaded 17 out of the 21 journalists working on the internet site to become members.

This is, however, not believed to have been the reason for her dismissal. Her immediate superior, Ahmed Sheikh, is understood to be a union member.

By Dominic Ponsford

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