Yemeni security forces lay siege to editor’s home

New York, February 12, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned that Yemeni security forces have laid siege to the home of a newspaper editor following an attack by gunmen on his home and newspaper’s offices in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.

Bashraheel Bashraheel, the foreign news editor at the independent daily Al-Ayyam, told CPJ that two vehicles carrying 12 gunmen attacked the paper’s compound, which includes the home of Editor-in-Chief Hisham Bashraheel, his father, on Al-Siteen Road around 1:15 p.m. today. A statement issued by Al-Ayyam said that at the time of the attack, Bashraheel’s father, Hisham Bashraheel, his wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were in the house, and a number of staff were in the offices. A gunfight broke out with machine guns between the assailants and the paper’s guards. Four of the assailants were injured; one of them died later in hospital, according to the statement.

Staff at Al-Ayyam called the police, but authorities did not show up until around 2:30 p.m., according to the paper’s statement. The police arrested four of the paper’s employees as part of their investigation, including guard Ahmed Omer Al-Abadi, clerk Arhab Hassan Yaseen, office manager Hisham Bin Taleb, and office accountant Mohammed Awad. “At present, security forces are surrounding the compound demanding a hostage from the Bashraheel family for tribal arbitration, which we refuse,” the statement read.

“We are concerned by reports that security forces have surrounded the compound containing the offices of Al-Ayyam and the home of its editor-in-chief, Hisham Bashraheel,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to withdraw all forces immediately, release the paper’s staff, and investigate the attack.”

Mohammed Al-Basha, press officer for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, told CPJ that Yemeni security forces would not surround the compound to demand tribal arbitration. “I can not confirm or deny that his house is being surrounded, but if there’s a suspect who is in the presence of Bashraheel’s residence then he should surrender to the police,” Al-Basha said. “This is a criminal matter. An exchange of fire between two tribal groups; it’s an issue related to a piece of land, and unfortunately one of the parties was killed and three injured during the exchange.”

Bashraheel told CPJ that the group is acting on behalf of a person known to defraud people of their property. He added that attacks and threats Al-Ayyam has been receiving from this group coincide with the paper’s reporting on demonstrations by forcibly retired military generals in the country’s southern cities.

“It’s clear to us that that the government complacency in arresting this group after repeated warnings from us led to today’s events,” the statement said. “During 2007, the problems caused by this group were always timed precisely with items published in the newspaper about the recent demonstrations all over the country.”