Yemen shuts Al-Jazeera offices; journalists beaten

New York, March 24, 2011--Yemeni authorities today ordered Al-Jazeera's offices shut and its journalists stripped of accreditation, escalating a week-long series of reprisals against the station that has included beatings, expulsions, raids, and death threats. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the government's decision to shut Al-Jazeera and urges authorities to reverse the order immediately.

Saeed Thabit, Al-Jazeera's Yemen bureau chief, said a Ministry of Information official informed him of the closure by phone but provided no specific reason. Abdu al-Gindi, Yemen's deputy minister of information, said in an Al-Jazeera interview that the station had turned into "a channel that incites revolutions." News accounts cited unnamed government sources as asserting that Al-Jazeera misidentified a short clip of prison violence as being from Yemen, a claim the station did not immediately address.

The station has been providing extensive coverage of the weeks-long popular uprising that has threatened President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year reign. The closing of the station's offices comes two days after about 20 plainclothes gunmen raided Al-Jazeera's Sana'a bureau. The gunmen, whose faces were obscured by head scarves, confiscated equipment and obstructed operations while uniformed police stood by and took no action, Al-Jazeera journalists said. On Saturday, authorities expelled two Al-Jazeera correspondents.

On Wednesday, government supporters attacked Al-Jazeera cameraman Mujib al-Suwailah as he filmed demonstrations in Ta'iz, Yemen's third-largest city, Thabit told CPJ. The assault was so severe that it broke al-Suwailah's arm, causing the radius bone to penetrate the skin. He underwent surgery today and remains in the hospital, Thabit said.   

On Saturday, plainclothes men assaulted cameraman Walid al-Miqtari in front of the channel's Sana'a office, Thabit told CPJ. They kicked and punched him repeatedly, took his camera and identification papers, and threatened him with additional violence if he continued to report for the station. "You and the others at Al-Jazeera deserve to be slaughtered," the attackers told al-Miqtari.

Al-Jazeera employees have reported numerous death threats and threats of physical violence against themselves and their families. The latest threat was made by an anonymous caller to Ahmad al-Shalafi, one of the station's chief correspondents in Sana'a, and was directed at his children. "We are in hiding now, in various places throughout Yemen; we are not in our own homes. There are people looking for us and wishing to do us harm," Thabit told CPJ.

"The government and its supporters have engaged for two months now in escalating levels of obstruction, physical violence, and naked threats against journalists, particularly those working for Al-Jazeera." said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Those in positions of power in Yemen, particularly within the presidency and the interior ministry, will be held accountable for any harm that befalls our colleagues."

Immediately following the assault on Walid al-Miqtari, Thabit sent two letters to the Yemeni Ministry of the Interior. The first requested protection for Al-Jazeera's offices, and a second letter demanded the return of al-Miqtari's equipment and identification papers. The government did not respond, Thabit told CPJ.

Over a period of a few days in mid-March, Yemen expelled six other international journalists. The Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate has documented in excess of 60 individual attacks on media since the beginning of social unrest in January. They include a killing, abductions, dozens of physical assaults, confiscation of equipment, and scores of death threats against journalists and their families.  

March 24, 2011 2:12 PM ET |

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