Yemen: Journalists complain increasing violence during riots [Archives:2005/866/Reportage]

August 8 2005

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Yemeni journalists complained they had received harsh attacks from the police and security men while covering the latest riots that swarmed the country over oil price rise last week. “More than 10 such incidences were recorded within only two days,” said Hafez Al-Bukari, General Secretary of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS). “The Ministry of the Interior has not seriously dealt with continuous complaints and communiques, which were issued by YJS.

In a roundtable organized by the YJS Sunday to discuss such abuses, Mohaboob Ali, YJS chairman described these incidents as “regrettable”. “We have interfered to get some of our colleagues released. We can not accept such practices and some officials from the ministry of interior should have attended this debate,” he said.

During riots which claimed the lives of around 50 people, the army and security forces in Yemen have arrested a number of journalists covering the events and attacked others, confiscating their cameras and film. Some journalists have been banned from covering the event.

In other cases, Yemeni correspondents for foreign media have been barred from sending news reports using Yemeni TV satellite stations despite agreements that allow them to do so.

“When I was shooting the riots, policemen arrested me and put me in jail for three days. I was accused of instigating the riots. I was put in a small cell with other 16 prisoners and therefore, I used to stay up late in the evening and sleep during the day as the room was not vacant enough for all of us to sleep at the same time,” Ali al-Awadhi from al-Asima weekly newspaper said.

The situation for Yemeni journalists has gotten riskier, according to the YJS, since the July 17 attack on the managing editor of independent daily newspaper An-Nahar. The editor, Hajei Al-Jehafi, was injured after a booby-trapped letter exploded in his face. “I have received several threats from an influential social figure after criticizing his practices with the ordinary citizens of his area. When I found that the threats are reaching my family, I have taken my wife and children back to my village where they can be safer,” al-Jehafi said.

As the An-Nahar staff could not get any reaction from the ministry of interior, they have plead for political asylum.” As we have lost hope that the nobody will stop the man carrying out his threats to kill the editors of the paper, we appeal to all countries and organizations that respect human rights to help us escape this country in which the life of the people has become very cheap,” said a statement sent by the paper.

Local and international journalists' organizations have expressed concerns over the increasing attacks against Journalists in Yemen after a marked rise in abuses in 2004, which have seen the country drop 33 places in the world press freedom index over two years.

“It [2004] was the worst year for press freedom and journalists in Yemen, Mohammed Sadeq al-Udaini, director of the Centre for Training and Protection of Journalists' Freedom (CTPJF), earlier said. He said that the CTPJF reported over 120 cases of violations against journalists in Yemen, adding that this marked the most ruthless attack on press freedom since the country's unification in 1990.

“We are gravely concerned about these attacks on journalists in Yemen,” said Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists based in Brussels. “We stand in solidarity with the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate as it fights to maintain a free press and insure its members' safety”, he added in apr's statement issued July 29th.

The correspondent of the Associated Press and APTN TV appealed to the (YJS) to take an action towards the threats he has been receiving during the last few weeks. He pointed out that the following days, security men wearing folk dress kidnapped one of his assistants working in his office and took him Tuesday, July 26th to the 22 May police station where he was interrogated for three and a half hours at night. “He was beaten up and tortured and questioned about my movements, the people who come to the office from the US embassy and foreigners as if my work as a journalist has become so suspicious. After they failed to force him to spy on me in the office, he was released and came back to the office only 4 am,” he said. He further said that his landline phone service in the office was cut in addition to the monitoring of his movement, email address and the office.

It is unclear why the number of violations of press freedom have risen so rapidly in the past year, but media representatives say it is in response to greater press criticism of the government. “I think the government has succeeded in mobilizing the hostility of the police against journalists who are considered agents. This is really part of the battle that democrats including journalists are fighting to establish real democracy. It is not that easy to move from totalitarian system into a democratic one, “said Mohammed al-Sharabee. He added that the ministry of interior has adopted a hostile attitude towards the media. “This is very clear as the minister of interior himself refuses to talk to journalists except for those working for the state-run papers,” he added.

The annual worldwide press freedom index published last January by press watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) showed that Yemen's position had dropped from 103 in 2002 to 136 in 2004, listing it below Afghanistan (97) and Somalia (130).