Calls grow for release of Yemeni journalists
With four journalists still facing death penalty, 24 new violations of press freedom documented in first quarter of 2021
In conjunction with World Press Freedom Day on May 3, a number of Yemeni journalists and local organizations supporting freedom of opinion and expression in Yemen launched an online campaign calling for the immediate release of all detained journalists.
Many activists and government officials took part in the campaign’s program from May 1-3 under the hashtag #AJournalistIsnotAnEnemy.
In a joint statement, 22 press freedom organizations confirmed their rejection of death orders against four journalists kidnapped and imprisoned by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the capital Sana’a, stressing that Yemen is still one of the worst places in terms of abuses against journalists.
Mustafa Nasr, director of the Studies & Economic Media Center, one of the campaigning organizations, told Anadolu Agency that “journalists and media institutions were the first victims after the Houthis’ control of Sanaa in September 2014. Since then, there has been a massive decline in freedom of the press in Yemen.”
“There is no longer an appropriate environment for freedom of expression and professional press in Yemen. Rather, the media has become merely a war press,” he added.
Reporters Without Borders classified Yemen as a “high-risk” country for journalists and ranked the country in 167th place out of 180 countries in 2020’s World Press Freedom Index and 169th in 2021.
Asia Thabit, a female Yemeni journalist working for Belqees TV in Istanbul since early 2015, said during a webinar organized by the campaign that if there is no war, she would not have worked on political programs and would currently be in Yemen.
“I always preferred to stay away from politics and report on literature and art, but the war forced me to leave my country and deal on a daily basis with issues full of pain, scenes of blood and destruction, crying mothers and screaming children,” she added.
War’s toll on journalists
As violations against journalists increased during the war, many journalists have lost their lives.
“The size of our loss at Belqees TV is huge. During the last six years, we lost five of our colleagues,” Thabit told Anadolu Agency.
“On May 20, 2015, two journalists, Abdullah Kabil and Youssef Alaizry, were found dead as the Houthi militia kidnapped and located them as human shields in places targeted by Saudi-led coalition jet attacks. Adeeb al-Janani, our correspondent in Aden, was also among the many civilians killed in the attack on the airport of Aden, Yemen, on Dec. 30, 2020,” she added.
Hisham Al-Yousifi, a Yemeni journalist, posted a video on his Twitter account recalling his five and a half years in prison.
“On June 9, 2015, eight of my fellow journalists and I were kidnapped from a hotel in Sanaa. We spent 1,955 days in a prison full of injustice, oppression and psychological and physical torture.
“Today, I am in Cairo receiving treatment after I was released in a prisoner swap deal between the Houthis and the legitimate government on Oct. 15, 2020,” he added.
The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS) has documented 24 violations of press freedom in the country in the first quarter of 2021, ranging from arbitrary detentions to assaults and threats.
The violations include seven cases of detention, seven cases of journalists being taken to court, six cases of media coverage being banned, two cases of work equipment being confiscated, one case of assault and one case of threats.
The YJS reported that the Houthi group was responsible for 14 of the cases, while the government was responsible for nine. The remaining case was blamed on the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a secessionist group backed by the United Arab Emirates.
Throughout the conflict, the Houthis have been known to target journalists. Their leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi once called for a campaign against journalists as he described them as “more dangerous than those fighting on the front lines.”
Four journalists -- Abdel-Khaleq Amran, Akram al-Walidi, Hareth Hamid and Tawfiq al-Mansouri -- are still facing the death penalty after being charged by Houthi rebels with “spying and collaborating with the enemy.”
“With many parties consider journalists as enemies, training journalists about their rights and applying all possible pressures to get some of them out of prisons are the main tools we use to achieve tangible results in defending journalists and reducing violations against them,” Nasr said.
The YJS report claims that 13 journalists are still forcibly disappeared or kidnapped, some for five years. All of them are in critical and very difficult conditions. Besides the illegal status of their detentions, they are deprived of medical treatment and not allowed to be visited by their families.
On World Press Freedom Day, “I appeal to all people around the world to put pressure on the Houthi group to release the rest of my colleagues who are facing very bad health and psychological conditions,” Al-Yousifi said.
The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has repeatedly called for the release of arbitrarily detained journalists and condemned the targeting of media professionals.
Griffiths on World Press Freedom Day tweeted that “Press freedom space in Yemen keeps shrinking. Yemeni journalists take huge risks to do their job. I urge all parties to protect journalists & their families from abuse & immediately release those detained.”
Since 2015, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has documented 357 human rights violations and abuses against journalists in Yemen.
This includes 28 killings, two enforced disappearances, one abduction, 45 physical assaults, 184 arbitrary arrests and detentions, 16 death or physical violence threats against journalists, 24 seizures of media organizations, 26 closures of TV channels and newspaper companies, 27 attacks on media organizations and houses of journalists and four death sentences imposed on journalists in Sanaa in April 2020 in violation of international human rights law.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.