Yemeni Web sites apparently blocked

New York, January 25, 2008–Several Yemeni news and opinion Web sites have apparently been blocked domestically by the government-owned Internet service provider, according to news reports and a CPJ interview.

Three Web sites became unavailable to domestic users on January 19, joining a list of at least five others that have disappeared within Yemen without explanation in recent months.

Walid al-Saqaf, founder and administrator of the news crawler YemenPortal, told CPJ today that several overseas contacts confirmed that they were still able to view his popular site even as it was unavailable domestically.

Al-Saqaf said officials with the service provider, run by the Ministry of Telecommunication, could not explain why his site was unavailable but denied deliberately blocking access. The ministry has offered no public explanation as to why the sites are unavailable.

“We are troubled by the Yemeni government’s recent blocking of news and opinion Web sites,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Such a blatant restriction on news and information shows the lengths the Yemeni government is willing to go to stifle independent and dissident news. We call on authorities to restore all blocked sites immediately.”

Al-Saqaf said he believes his site may have been blocked after it posted citizen videos of a January 13 protest in the southern port city of Aden. The videos show security forces firing unprovoked at the crowd, he said, in contradiction of the government’s account.

Two other sites became unavailable domestically on January 19: YemenHurr and Hour’s News, according to the English-language weekly Yemen Times. Five others have disappeared in recent months for reasons that have not been explained: Hdramut, Al-Teef, Al-Yemen, AdenPress, and SoutalGnoub.