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Media freedoms under threat in war-torn Yemen: report

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Yemeni journalists are checked by Kuwaiti security as they arrive at the Yemen peace talks media centre at Kuwait's information ministry in Kuwait city on April 22nd, 2016, to attend a press conference held by the UN secretary general special envoy for Yemen. [Yasser al-Zayyat/AFP]

The war in Yemen has exacted a heavy cost on journalists in the country, with a record 37 violations against journalists and media institutions in July and August alone, according to a recent report.

All parties to the conflict were responsible for the mistreatment of journalists, the report said, with the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) topping the list, having committed 18 violations of the total cases recorded.

Out of the remaining violations, 12 were recorded in Aden, six in Taez, and one in Shabwa province, said the report, released September 12th by the Media Freedoms Observatory of the Studies and Economic Media Centre (SEMC).

The observatory expressed concern over the increase in the number of violations and abusive practices against journalists and media institutions in Yemen.

It reiterated its call to all parties to "immediately stop targeting journalists" and abide by the Yemeni constitution and international conventions on freedom of the press.

It also called on the Houthis to release 18 journalists, some of whom have been detained in the militia's prisons for more than three years.

"Similarly, journalist Mohammed Ali is still detained by the legitimate government in Mareb, and no information is available on the fate of Mohammed al-Muqri, who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in late 2015," the report said.

'State of the media disastrous'

"It is regrettable that journalists are made the first target by all the parties to the conflict in Yemen," said SEMC director Mustafa Nasr.

"The monitoring map documented by the observatory shows the level of escalation and increasing hostility towards the work of journalists in all regions of Yemen," he told Al-Mashareq.

"This calls for increased solidarity among journalists to defend their profession and affirm that journalism is not a crime," Nasr said.

The Houthis have topped the list of violators of press freedoms since the war began in March 2015, he said, adding that 18 journalists in Sanaa were arbitrarily abducted and are still detained and subjected to various forms of torture and abuse.

"The state of the media in Yemen is disastrous and miserable," said Mohammad Sadiq al-Odaini, head of the Centre for Training and Protecting Journalists' Freedom (CTPJF).

"Yemen has become an unsafe environment for journalism and the lives of those who work in this field," he said.

There are no independent or even partisan newspapers left in Houthi-controlled areas, as there is a ban on printing them on the militias’ orders, he said, adding that "all news websites have been blocked".

Arrests and abductions are occurring at an "unprecedented level", al-Odeini said, and "prisons, detention centres and inhumane treatment are the fate" of many journalists.

Houthis silence opposing voices

"Freedom of the press in Yemen is going through a dark phase," political analyst and journalist Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

The situation is even more dire in Houthi-controlled areas as the militia has "perpetrated the most serious abuses against journalists and the media", he said.

Journalists in Houthi-controlled areas have been arrested and tortured and some have been sentenced to death, he said, adding that all media institutions that oppose the militia have been shuttered.

"There is no dissenting voice to [challenge] the Houthis," said Ahmed.

The militia's targeting of the media has even extended to social media activists, he said, as some have been arrested or tortured for tweeting or posting on Facebook.

Ahmed urged the UN and organisations concerned with media freedoms to intervene and exert pressure on all parties to the Yemeni conflict to release detained journalists and cease violations against the press.

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