CPJ calls on Yemen to end siege of independent newspaper

New York, January 4, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to instruct authorities to peacefully end a siege of an independent daily that is now in its second day in Aden.

Yemeni police and security personnel have surrounded the compound that houses the offices of the independent daily Al-Ayyam since Monday afternoon, according to local news reports. When the siege began, journalists affiliated with a variety of media outlets were conducting a sit-in outside the Al-Ayyam compound to protest the paper’s continued suspension since May, a statement from the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate said. Authorities have never given an official reason for the suspension; the paper continued to publish online until September.

Armed, uniformed men fired shots while dispersing the crowd. Authorities claimed the shots came from Al-Ayyam’s armed security guards or one of the protesters, while Al-Ayyam’s management and lawyers vehemently deny the charge, Mohammed al-Amrawi, one of the paper’s lawyers, told CPJ. News reports said as many as nine people have been injured and two killed, although al-Amrawi could only confirm that he saw at least two Al-Ayyam guards being taken away in ambulances early in the morning. CPJ was unable to reach the paper’s management for confirmation.

“We call on the authorities to end the senseless and unjustified siege of Al-Ayyam without delay,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Since May, the authorities have repeatedly used the judiciary, the police, and other security apparatuses to harass and intimidate Al-Ayyam. We hold the Yemeni government directly responsible for the well-being of all those who remain surrounded as this siege continues.

Using loudspeakers in the early afternoon on Monday, authorities ordered residents in buildings surrounding Al-Ayyam’s compound to evacuate their homes, according to an e-mail from Mohammed Bashraheel, the son of the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Hisham Bashraheel. Those who did not heed the evacuation order in nearby buildings are no longer able to leave the area, al-Amrawi said.

Al-Amrawi, whose office overlooks the cordoned off street where Al-Ayyam’s compound is located, told CPJ that after the protesters were dispersed, the gunfire stopped but the siege continued. “Around three in the morning, fire sounded out again; semiautomatic and automatic gunfire could be heard … even rocket-propelled grenades could be heard,” he said.

This is the second time the daily has been surrounded and come under fire from security personnel. A similar incident took place in May, after the government prevented the paper from going to print earlier that month.