Yemen’s journalists: First casualty in war

Attacks on members of the media in Yemen have reached an ‘unprecedented’ level, observers say.

Despite accusations of the rebels assaulting journalists, some Houthi journalists have also been attacked [AFP]

Yemen is increasingly becoming a hostile place for journalists, Yemeni journalists and media pundits have told Al Jazeera.

Several journalists, including Al Jazeera bureau chief Saeed Thabet, have received death threats and – in some cases – been forced to resign from their jobs.

This past weekend, Thabet said he was worried for his life after receiving a phone call from someone threatening to kill him if he did not stop his “anti-Houthi” media coverage.

“The caller said that he was from Ansar Allah and told me that they would kill me very soon and could come to my house,” said Thabet, who is also the undersecretary of the Yemen Journalists Syndicate (YSJ), an umbrella organisation for hundreds of journalists in Yemen.

Yemeni journalists are the latest victims in a cycle of violence that has gripped the nation since the Houthi takeover of the capital last September and their subsequent attempts to expand their influence into other provinces. Analysts say this has spurred some Sunni tribes to ally with al-Qaeda fighters to stop the Houthis’ advance.

On Monday, the latest round of violence broke out around the presidential palace when clashes erupted between Houthi fighters and presidential guards on the southern side of Yemen’s capital. The clashes took place two days after the group’s abduction of of the president’s chief of staff, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak.

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Following the Houthis’ takeover of Sanaa, Yemeni journalists complained that the country was increasingly becoming a hostile environment for journalists, as the rebels became aggressive towards journalists who criticised them.

On January 12, the YSJ issued a statement  strongly condemning the death threat against Thabet and calling upon the country’s attorney general and interior ministry to put on trial those who have threatened journalists.

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“This serious incident comes in the framework of a general hostile atmosphere against media, public liberties and blatant incitement against the workers in these two fields,” the statement said.

According to some local and international organisations that defend journalists, attacks on members of the media in Yemen have reached an “unprecedented” level, as both of the warring parties in the country have an unfriendly stance towards journalists.

The Freedom Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that tracks violations against journalists, said in a report on January 11 that it recorded 359 cases last year, mostly at the hands of militias.

Unlike previous years when the government was behind most attacks on journalists, the foundation said that the Houthis’ entrance into the country’s political landscape has contributed to an escalation in attacks on journalists.

Following the Sanaa takeover, the foundation said a new pattern of violations emerged, including the storming and controlling of media establishments and the confiscation of technical instruments, forcing some local channels to go off the air. 

On December 23, Yemen’s newly appointed minister of information, Nadia al-Saqqaf, ordered the suspension of distribution of the government-run Al-Thawra newspaper after Houthi rebels came to control the popular publication. The Houthis challenged the minister’s decision and continued printing and distributing the newspaper across the country. When Faisal Makram, Al-Thawra’s editor, stood up to the Houthis, rebels went to his house and forced him to step down at gunpoint, according to the YJS.

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The YJS also accused the Houthis of abducting and mistreating Maad al-Zekri, a photojournalist for Azal TV, which is owned by Mohammed al-Shaif, a senior member of the General People’s Congress, the former president’s party.

Zekri told Al Jazeera that earlier in January, Houthi armed men abducted him and his brother at midnight and kept them in an unknown detention location for three days. During his detention, Zekri was subjected to many forms of mistreatment, including being booted, exposed to cold weather and deprived of bathroom facilities.

The syndicate is out of function due to the general deterioration in the country. Nevertheless, it is making commendable efforts to rally for solidarity with journalists.

- Saeed Thabet, Al Jazeera bureau chief in Yemen

The Houthis accused him of working with al-Qaeda, after the publication of interviews in October with some al-Qaeda fighters who controlled Oudain district in the northern Ibb province. The Houthis released Zekri after apologising to him, citing a similarity between his name and another al-Qaeda-linked journalist.

The YJS statements on violations seem to be falling on deaf ears, however, as both the government and the Houthis continue to assault journalists in the country.

Since the beginning of this year, the YJS has issued many statements condemning the attacks and urging security services to protect journalists.

According to Thabet: “The syndicate is out of function due to the general deterioration [of security] in the country. Nevertheless, it is making commendable efforts to rally for solidarity with journalists.”

But despite accusations of the rebels assaulting journalists, some of their journalists were attacked by their rivals, mainly al-Qaeda.

Earlier this month, Khaled al-Washili, a reporter for the Houthi-funded al- Masirah TV in Dhamar province, was killed in an explosion when Houthi fighters failed to defuse a bomb planted near a building in Dhamar city.

Other journalists have also paid a heavy price for supporting the rebels.

Last August, unknown gunmen shot and killed  Abdul Rahman Hamed Addin, a producer at Sanaa radio. In the same month, another pro-Houthi journalist,  Ibrahim al-Abyadhi, survived an assassination attempt in Sanaa when armed men opened fire on him.

Source: Al Jazeera

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