The Iraqi government has ordered the immediate closure of broadcast stations operating in the country, including Qatar-based, Al-Jazeera.

This decision came after sectarian tensions boiled over into violence last week between predominantly Shiite Muslim security forces and Sunni Arab protesters. The Iraqi officials claimed that the broadcast stations, most of which are affiliated with Sunni Muslims, encouraged the violence that reportedly left 180 people dead.

The government announcement was made last Sunday. An official from the Communications and Media Commission (CMC), Mujahid Abu Al-Hail, was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying: “We took a decision to suspend the licence of some satellite channels that adopted a language encouraging violence and sectarianism.”

Al Jazeera, one of the 10 satellite stations banned, said: “We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once though suggests this is an indiscriminate decision. We urge the authorities to uphold freedom for the media to report the important stories taking place in Iraq.”

IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “While news media have a responsibility to refrain from incitement, the indiscriminate closure of so many broadcast stations appears to be a violation of press freedom.”

The Sunni-led broadcast stations were reportedly all critical of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government.

Sunni Muslims in Iraq have been increasingly vocal of late about what they see as their political marginalisation in Iraq.