1 September 2010

A surge in military assault prompts crackdown on journalists

Yemeni troops battle militants and beat and arrest journalists in the name of national security.
Yemeni troops battle militants and beat and arrest journalists in the name of national security.
As the Yemeni government escalates its military offensive against militants in the southern part of the country, arbitrary arrests of journalists on security grounds have become commonplace throughout Yemen, report the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and other IFEX members. At least 25 journalists were held by the army as they tried to attend a peace conference in the north around 21 August. Days earlier, security forces detained both a cartoonist who is also a human rights activist as well as a journalist who writes about Al-Qaeda.

The government has created a media blackout in the northern region of Saada and Amran because of ongoing conflicts between government forces, tribal groups and Islamist Houthi Shiite rebels, reports the International Press Institute (IPI). National and foreign press have been banned from the area for security reasons. Recently, at least 25 journalists attempting to cover the National Peace Conference in this region were arrested, although they had been invited by tribal elders to attend. They were released and expelled from the north, barred from the event.

In another part of the country, heavily armed troops stormed the home of prominent journalist Abdulelah Hiden Shaea on 16 August. He was beaten and taken away. Shaea is a reporter for the official Saba News Agency and a contributor to Al-Jazeera, known for his exclusive interviews with Al-Qaeda leaders and his analysis on Islamist groups. Officers confiscated his notes and laptop. On 11 July he was abducted and interrogated for several hours by intelligence services. At that time, Shaea told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ): "In Yemen, you conceal your identity as a journalist. Your journalism ID is a liability, not an asset. It turns you into a target."

On 17 August, Kamal Sharaf, a cartoonist for the state-owned "Gumhouria" newspaper, was arrested. As a rights activist, he has launched a campaign against corruption and was recently awarded for his work on women's rights.

Sharaf witnessed Shaea's kidnapping in July and reported on it. Both Sharaf and Shaea are being held incommunicado. Their arrests and detention violate the Yemeni constitution as the police showed no written order and did not let them speak to their lawyers.

"The fight against terrorism does not justify... disappearance of journalists," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said. "The arbitrary and brutal manner in which Shaea and Sharaf were arrested amid the current upsurge of violence makes us fear the worst."

Other journalists critical of the government and corruption, or who write about terrorism, have been pressured to stop writing, beaten, arrested, threatened with kidnapping and death. One journalist's home was fired at several times.

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