16 March 2011

Foreign witnesses removed; local reporters and activists attacked, abducted

Fierce protests continue in Yemen as thousands face bullets from security forces
Fierce protests continue in Yemen as thousands face bullets from security forces
Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
Yemeni authorities have arrested and deported at least six foreign journalists after coverage of government attacks that killed seven protesters in Sana'a over the weekend. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI) fear the deportations are setting the stage for further repression of local journalists and greater violence against protesters. And as thousands continue to march the streets demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down immediately, snipers are taking aim at unarmed demonstrators while security forces are arresting wounded demonstrators in hospitals, reports Human Rights Watch.

On 14 March, security forces raided a Sana'a apartment shared by four international journalists who have lived in Yemen for years and were covering violence against protesters. The two Britons are Oliver Holmes, who strings for "The Wall Street Journal" and "Time", and Portia Walker, who strings for "The Washington Post". The Americans are Haley Sweetland Edwards, who writes for the "Los Angeles Times", and Joshua Maricich, a photographer.

Their expulsion is a clear sign the crackdown on protesters will intensify with no witnesses, said Edwards.

U.S. reporter Patrick Symmes and Italian photographer Marco Di Lauro, on assignment for "Outside", a U.S.-based travel and adventure magazine, were also deported even though they stated they had not covered the demonstrations. They had arrived in Sana'a after several days reporting on the Yemeni island of Socotra.

Meanwhile, government supporters continue to intimidate local journalists, report RSF, CPJ, IPI and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). On 12 March about 20 government supporters arrived at the Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate (JYS), an IFJ affiliate in Sana'a, and threatened to burn it down.

Yemeni journalists have been harassed, beaten, detained or abducted while covering clashes, according to RSF. In February, local journalists working for Al-Jazeera were prevented from covering a sit-in by authorities and told to leave the country; and a local cameraman, working for the opposition TV station Sahil, was beaten. Abdel Salam Jaber, the editor of the newspaper "Al-Qadiya", was kidnapped by security forces on 12 March for two days.

Violence has escalated with armed gangs carrying out attacks on anti-government protesters as officials foster an environment of impunity. Government supporters attacked demonstrators with rocks, sticks and glass bottles in the south-central city of Ibb on 6 March, witnesses and local journalists told Human Rights Watch. Dozens were wounded. On 3 March, in al-Baida', a city in central Yemen, large groups of armed men fired on thousands of demonstrators demanding President Saleh's resignation, injuring at least five people. Some community leaders say local officials recruited the attackers.

In recent weeks, security forces shot and killed at least 10 anti-government protesters at mainly peaceful demonstrations in the southern port city of Aden and in Sana'a - and injured more than 200 others, reports Human Rights Watch. On 4 March the Yemeni military fired at thousands of peaceful protesters near the town of Harf Sufyan. In a pre-dawn attack on 12 March near Sana'a University, security forces killed four and injured hundreds as they opened fire on protesters with teargas and rubber bullets, and then with live ammunition. The day before, President Saleh promised that security forces would not use violence on protesters.

In a new report, "Days of Bloodshed in Aden," Human Rights Watch describes paramilitary units, the army, an intelligence agency notorious for human rights violations and regular police deployed to control demonstrators in February. Security forces used tear gas and hot water to disperse crowds, firing rubber bullets and live ammunition, chasing and shooting protesters as they fled their assaults. Snipers shot at people from rooftops next to protest sites.

The military prevented doctors and ambulances from reaching the wounded and fired at people who tried to help victims, says the report. (Journalists have been barred from entering hospitals, say news reports.)

Human Rights Watch also recorded the enforced disappearance of at least eight southern opposition leaders and activists in Aden. Some dissidents were arrested in their homes, while others were taken from hospitals by masked security forces. Local activists say dozens of protesters are being detained.

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