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Friday, 25 September 2009

Editor Abducted in Ongoing Yemen Media Crackdown

IPI Urges Yemeni Government to Shed Light on Whereabouts of Missing Reporters 

By: Nayana Jayarajan, IPI Communications Officer

A video grab released by the Houthi rebel group on August 26, 2009 shows members of the group standing near a cannon seized from the army during the ongoing operation on their strongholds in northwestern Yemen. PHOTO: REUTERS/Houthi Group/Handout

The Yemeni editor of the El Eshterak website, Mohammed al-Maqaleh, was abducted a week ago after he published a report on his website on Yemeni military air strikes which caused civilian casualties near the city of Sa’ada, in northwestern Yemen, where battles between the Yemeni military and Houthi rebels have raged for five years, according to news reports. 

Al-Maqaleh’s abduction appears to be part of a crackdown by Yemeni authorities against journalists whose reporting on the conflict in northern Yemen has drawn the ire of the government.  

Yemeni authorities have arrested three journalists, all editors of websites, in the past four months. 

Fuad Rashed, editor of the Mukalla Press website, and Salah al-Saqladi, editor of the Aden News website, were arrested four months ago, reportedly for writing reports that the government claimed were in favor of a separatist movement in the south of the country. 

Asked by IPI if she was concerned about the fate of the missing journalists, IPI member Magda Abu-Fadel, Director of the Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut, said: “I would be very concerned. There’s no telling where they could be and under what conditions. It would be tragic if they were subjected to bodily harm or worse.”

IPI reported in July on Yemeni harassment of the media. 

On 15 July, Anis Mansour Hamida was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment for “separatism and attacking national unity.” Mansour, a journalist for the now-suspended Aden-based daily Al-Ayyam and other news websites, was sentenced on 15 July by a lower court in Al-Qabita.

A week before that, a Yemen parliamentarian called for the closure of the local office of Qatar-based TV broadcaster Al-Jazeera, accusing the network of “hostility to the union.” 

The broadcaster’s reporters received threatening text messages from an anonymous sender in April, warning them to stop covering events in south Yemen. In late May the channel’s bureau chief was barred from covering demonstrations in Aden and was put under surveillance.  

In May, the government banned several publications, including the widely-read Al-Ayyam newspaper, and blocked numerous websites, for allegedly inciting violence and secessionism. 

“Yemeni authorities must realise that the suppression of an independent media will hinder public understanding of internal conflicts, making it more difficult to resolve those conflicts in the future,” said IPI Director David Dadge. “We call upon the Yemeni authorities to immediately make public the whereabouts of the missing journalists. No government should be allowed to make journalists with critical views simply ‘disappear.’”