Yemen press freedom at 'lowest point' since Houthi coup

By Abu Bakr al-Yamani in Sanaa


Journalists work on May 5th, 2016 at the international airport in Yemen's Aden, as the first passenger plane landed after the airport reopened after months of closure. Journalists in Yemen have faced difficult conditions, especially in areas controlled by the Houthis. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

Yemeni journalists tell Al-Mashareq they are angered at the way media professionals have been targeted by the Houthis (Ansarallah) in areas of the country under the militia's control.

In an October 3rd statement, the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate demanded the release of 10 journalists detained by the Houthis more than two years ago.

The syndicate said it had learned from legal sources that the 10 had been referred to the specialised criminal prosecution at the state security court.

The state security court in Sanaa is controlled by the Houthis and is generally used by the militia to try al-Qaeda elements, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international media rights watchdog.

According to the syndicate's statement, the court "denies them the right of defence and does not provide the minimum conditions for a fair trial".

A day earlier, on October 2nd, armed militiamen in civilian clothes stormed the house of journalist Kamel al-Khoudani, arresting him and terrorising his family in the process, breaking down doors and ransacking closets, the syndicate said.

Al-Khoudani works for, the mouthpiece of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's General People’s Congress, which is allied with the Houthis.

His arrest comes less than a week after his pardon and release on September 24th, along with other detainees, by the Houthi- and Saleh-controlled Supreme Political Council, on the occasion of the third anniversary of the coup.

Among the prisoners released during the amnesty was journalist Abdul-Raqib al-Jubeihi, who had been given a death sentence by the criminal court.

"As for the statement on the coup [militias] granting a general amnesty for all journalists and ordering their release, including the journalist al-Jubeihi, the syndicate stresses that it is their right to be free, and not a privilege to be granted by coup militias," syndicate board member Nabil al-Asidi told Al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Press freedom at lowest point

"Freedom of the press is at its lowest point since the militia entered the capital Sanaa," al-Asidi told Al-Mashareq.

Over the past three years, he said, 23 journalists have been killed and 150 have been kidnapped and detained, 17 of whom remain in detention.

"A catastrophe has befallen the press in Yemen," he said. "International organisations and human rights organisations must step in to protect journalists from the practices to which they are being subjected."

"Since September 2014, plurality of the press has been extinguished and the margin of freedoms that existed before has faded away," said journalist Khalid Ahmed.

"Since then, government-run daily newspapers have ceased publication, with the exception of Al-Thawra newspaper, which has become the Houthis' mouthpiece," he told Al-Mashareq.

"All partisan newspapers and independent radio stations have stopped operating, and news sites and television channels have migrated out of Yemen," he said.

Al-Ahmed pointed to the Houthis’ actions against journalists who work for the General People’s Congress.

"For the past three years, the only media still working in the country are those that are mouthpieces for the Houthis and the General People’s Congress party, and even the latter’s journalists are being pursued and arrested by the Houthis."

"Even international media correspondents who remain in Sanaa -- and their number is limited -- are working under very difficult conditions and cannot carry out their duties freely," he said.

"They are being monitored closely by the Houthi militias," he added. "Some work under pseudonyms to avoid having the Houthis come after them."

"All of this has had a negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of journalists," al-Ahmed said. "Many of them were displaced and others dismissed from their work, and some were arrested."

"All of them lost their sources of income, especially as salaries have not been paid for close to a year," he added. "Such is the situation for journalists now."

'The profession of death'

Journalist and National Dialogue Conference member Thuraya Dammaj described her vocation as the "profession of death" under the Houthis.

"Yemen continues to be ranked as the worst place for press freedom because the journalist has become enemy No. 1 for this authority," she said.

Under the Houthis, she added, journalists have faced aggression and "farcical trials" that sometimes end with a death sentence.

Many journalists are languishing in prison and have been denied their basic rights, Dammaj said.

"Many journalists have left the profession and turned to [other] professions in an attempt to escape the Houthis’ brutality and make a living," she added.

"Since the militia’s coup in 2014, there is no longer a margin of freedom for journalists in Yemen, as all opposition media outlets have been shut down, even those that are not concerned with politics," media professional Moussa al-Nimrani told Al-Mashareq.

"The assets of satellite TV channels, local radio stations and newspapers were confiscated and used by [the Houthi militia] to disseminate its mobilisation narrative, and it arrested a number of journalists, while others were assassinated under mysterious circumstances," he said.

"The rest were forced to either migrate abroad in search of safety and jobs or be displaced to liberated areas, while others lost their enthusiasm to continue working in the journalism field and turned to alternative vocations," he added.

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