Months-long assault on media continues in Yemen

New York, June 24, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the government of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to end censorship of independent newspapers and to identify and prosecute those who assaulted Al-Jazeera journalists on two occasions in the south of the country. 

Yemen’s popular daily, Al-Ayyam, the weeklies Al-Nida and Al-Watani, as well as five other independent newspapers, were banned by the government in early May. Al-Ayyam and Al-Watani remain banned, journalists told CPJ. Although the ban against Al-Nida and the five other publications has been lifted, the state-owned Al-Thawra printing house has refused to print the papers, according to several journalists. As a result, Al-Nida remains out of circulation. The five other newspapers have since contracted with smaller printing houses, journalists told CPJ.

Sami Ghaleb, editor of Al-Nida, told CPJ that government officials had promised to instruct the state-owned Al-Thawra printing house to print his weekly, but that has not happened thus far. Even those newspapers that have resumed publication, he said, have faced sporadic confiscation.

On Monday, Al-Jazeera’s Aden correspondent, Fadel Mubarak, was assaulted by masked individuals while covering protests in Jea’ar in the southern governorate of Abyen. Mubarak, whose camera was also stolen, was treated at a local hospital and required stitches to his head, journalists told CPJ.

Then, today, unidentified individuals threw rocks at an Al-Jazeera crew on its way to Daalea City, in southern Yemen, to cover a rally organized by the ruling party, the satellite news channel reported. No crew members were hurt, but the vehicle was damaged.

“We condemn the continued harassment of independent journalism and the criminal assaults on Fadel Mubarak and other Al-Jazeera personnel. All independent papers should be allowed to resume publication, and the individuals who attacked Mubarak must be brought to justice,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We hold the Yemeni government responsible for the censorship they have imposed and for their failure to ensure the safety of our colleagues.”

The Freedoms Committee of the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate said it has documented dozens of attacks against the press since May. The syndicate and numerous other sources said official and pro-government media have run repeated commentary blaming recent unrest on independent news outlets that offer critical coverage of sensitive issues and interviews with opposition figures.

In previous years, CPJ documented numerous assaults on independent journalists, including Jamal Amer, editor of Al-Wasat and CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee in 2006. No one has been brought to justice in that case, despite government promises to do so.                                                                                                  

The most recent round of hostility to independent journalism reached its peak on May 13 when security forces fired on the offices of Al-Ayyam in Aden, the country’s second-largest city and a hot-bed of opposition to Saleh. Physical assaults have been coupled with dozens of arrests of independent journalists, editors, and bloggers, the latest of which was today’s arrest of Abdel Rakeeb Al-Hedyani, editor-in chief of Al-Watani. Al-Hedyani was released later in the day, journalists told CPJ.

CPJ has documented a number of other arrests. Fuad Rashid, editor-in-chief of the news Web site Mukalla Press, who was arrested on May 4, remains in custody, said Samia al-Aghbry of the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate.

Editor’s note: The original version of this alert was modified to correct the date in paragraph five.