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Yemen's media is under fire, syndicate says

Yemenis mourn over the bodies of two freelance cameramen, killed in Houthi shelling on the outskirts of Taez on May 26th. [Ahmad al-Basha/AFP]

A series of violations against the press by all parties to Yemen's conflict has threatened media freedoms and put the lives of journalists at risk, the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS) said in a recent report.

In a July 6th report on media freedoms for the first half of 2017, the syndicate, an International Federation of Journalists affiliate, said it had recorded 130 violations against media and press freedoms.

These include murder and the attempted assassination of journalists, direct attacks, death threats, suspension of work, hacking of news sites, confiscation of personal possessions and intimidation, the report said.

The Sanaa headquarters of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate has stood empty for four months, amid a war that has seen journalists targeted by all parties to the conflict. [Abu Bakr al-Yamani/Al-Mashareq]

The Houthis (Ansarallah) topped the list of perpetrators of violations against journalists with 64 violations, 49% of the total, the report added.

Violations ranged from kidnappings and detentions (39 cases), attacks (20 cases), attempted murder (18 cases), threats (14 cases), trials (10 cases), torture (eight cases), confiscation of personal and media property (eight cases), suspension of salary (seven cases), killing (three cases), and hacking of news sites (three cases).

Dark days for the media

"The Yemeni press is going through its worst times ever, since the outbreak of the war two years ago," said syndicate council member and training committee head Nabil al-Asidi.

The current conflict has been like a "tsunami that destroyed all the pillars of journalism", he told Al-Mashareq.

All parties to the conflict have sought to silence opposing voices, he said, noting that the Houthis have committed the most violations against journalists.

Since the outbreak of the war, 23 journalists have been killed, al-Asidi said, adding that some were killed in airstrikes and others were killed by direct fire.

Cameramen Takieddin al-Hudhaifi and Wael al-Absi were killed and two others sustained serious injuries on May 26th by a shell fired by the Houthis as they covered the fighting on the eastern outskirts of Taez, the syndicate said.

Meanwhile, the coalition on July 18th blocked a UN aid flight from heading to Sanaa with journalists from the BBC on board, even though the group had secured visas from both the government and the Houthis.

Al-Asidi called for the release of kidnapped journalists, the rehabilitation of media institutions and the restoration of the status of the press, and for the cessation of smear campaigns targeting individual journalists.

Following the deaths of al-Hudhaifi and al-Absi, Committee to Protect Journalists Middle East and North Africa programme co-ordinator Sherif Mansour called on "all parties to the fighting in Yemen to take all steps possible to ensure the safety of journalists and other civilians".

The circumstances of these deaths and others like them must be "fully and credibly" investigated, he said.

'Extremely difficult' situation

Members of Yemen's press have been beset with difficulties as they go about their work, said former syndicate chief Abdel Bari Taher, urging all parties to stop the violations and allow space for the freedom of expression.

Taher told Al-Mashareq he is shocked at "the world’s silence and the lack of effort by the international community to pressure all parties to stop violations against journalists".

"Yemeni journalists are living under difficult conditions due to the circumstances of the war, and are targeted by several parties who want to cover up the truth," said Ashraf al-Rifi of the syndicate’s freedoms committee.

Journalists in Yemen are hunted and kidnapped, he told Al-Mashareq, adding that 18 journalists and photographers have been held hostage, and 23 have been killed since the outbreak of the war.

Newspapers and media outlets have been shuttered, and many journalists have been fired or detained, he added.

"Since the Houthis mounted a coup against the government in September 2014, they have shut down all media outlets that are not affiliated with them and looted their headquarters," said media professional Musa al-Nimrani.

These include satellite channels, newspapers, online sites and media companies, he told Al-Mashareq.

The Houthis have kidnapped and tortured journalists, he said, while others "were killed by sniper fire and anti-personnel mines" while covering the fighting.

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