Soldiers intimidate newspaper

New York, December 7, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by an apparent government attempt to intimidate journalists from the independent daily Al-Ayyam by sending elite Yemeni Republican Guards to its Aden office.

Around 1 a.m. on December 5, five soldiers in a gray-blue Mercedes circled Al-Ayyam’s headquarters several times before asking to meet with editor-in-chief, Hisham Bashraheel. The soldiers gave no reason for the request. They were told the editor was not available. Al-Ayyam said the soldiers, armed with rifles and machine guns, belonged to the Republican Guard based on the numeric configuration of the car’s license plate that read 3/24944. The same soldiers returned the following day at around 7 a.m. and parked next to the office. They waited there for two hours causing alarm among staff. The newspaper told CPJ that the Mercedes was later seen by an Al-Ayyam employee entering the presidential compound in Aden.

Staff at Al-Ayyam told CPJ they suspected that the show of force by the Republican Guard was an attempt to intimidate the newspaper in retaliation for its recent coverage, which included stories about the political opposition to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, and strained relations with the United States over rights abuses.

When the newspaper’s editors complained to the local governor’s office about the harassment they were told the Republican Guard were in the area to “eradicate crows” in the city.

“We condemn this crude attempt to bully the independent press, and call on President Saleh to ensure that this intimidation stops at once,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

In a sharp deterioration of press freedoms, several Yemeni journalists have been the targets of threats, brutal assaults, abductions, and criminal lawsuits by the government or suspected state agents in recent months.

In one particularly shocking case four men seized Jamal Amer, editor of the weekly Al-Wasat last August and bundled him into a waiting car. Amer said the men punched him, accused him of receiving funding from the U.S. and Kuwaiti embassies, and warned him about defaming unspecified “officials.” Amer said he was released about four hours later. He said he believed a car used in the abduction belonged to the Yemeni Republican Guard, based on its license plate, 11121/2. No one has been arrested in connection with the attack.