Violent media intimidation in Yemen and Bahrain

New York, May 24, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the governments of Yemen and Bahrain to end all intimidation and harassment of and physical violence against journalists. In Yemen, on Saturday, a journalist was attacked and repeatedly stabbed by unidentified assailants. In Bahrain, the authorities continue to detain and abuse journalists.

“Yemen and Bahrain have for months been among the most consistent violators of the rights of journalists in the Middle East,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “These two governments continue to use violence to intimidate and target journalists, in an effort to control the narrative.”

On Saturday, a group of armed men in civilian garb attempted to storm the offices of Al-Oula, an independent daily in Sana’a, Yemen. This has been described as an assassination attempt on Al-Oula‘s Editor-in-Chief, Mohammed Ayash according to a statement from the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate (YJS). Editorial trainee Hasaan Saeed Hasaan was beaten and stabbed multiple times during the assault.

The assault, which took place in central Sana’a, began at three in the morning when the group of men attempted to forcibly enter Al-Oula‘s offices, the YJS statement said. When the armed men failed to enter the locked offices, they waited at the building’s entrance until editorial trainee Hasaan Saeed Hasaan arrived, according to the YJS press release. The unidentified men bound, punched, and kicked Hasaan, and with a gun pointed to his head instructed him to lead them upstairs and unlock the office so that they can access Ayash’s office, Al-Oula‘s statement says. Hasaan tried to dissuade the men, telling them that Ayash was not in the office, to which they replied that “he is there and just made a phone call saying that he is at the office,” according to the YJS press release.    

When Hasaan refused to comply, the men tore his clothes and stabbed him around ten times. Hasaan’s life was only saved because military police in the vicinity of the newspaper’s office heard his cries for help.

Al-Oula has been a regular target of retaliatory acts by government agents and proxies, CPJ research shows. In April, another group of unidentified men beat Al-Oula correspondent Hamood al-Hashimi while he covered anti-government protests in Taiz. Al-Hashimi told CPJ at the time that the first threat occurred when he received an anonymous phone call telling him to stop reporting and to leave the scene immediately. On the same day, security forces seized a shipment of copies of Al-Oula and two other newspapers at a checkpoint. The driver was beaten, and the newspapers were confiscated. On Thursday, personnel at a military checkpoint confiscated and burnt 12,000 copies of Al-Oula, YJS said in a statement.  

In Bahrain, attacks on media also continue unabated. Photographer Mazen Mahdi, who works for Deutsche Presse Agentur and Defense News, was detained on Sunday, reported the U.K.-based Financial Times. Mahdi told the Financial Times that he was blindfolded, cuffed, and beaten. “They were claiming I ‘published lies’ that harmed the country’s image,” Mahdi told the FT. Nazeeha Saeed, a reporter for Radio Monte Carlo and France24, was also detained and roughly interrogated on Sunday, but apparently not beaten, according to the FT. Both journalists were released in the early morning hours on Monday.

Bahraini photographers Ali al-Kufi, Saeed Dhahi, and Hassan al-Nasheet, who were detained on May 15, were released, local journalists and human rights activists told CPJ. Another photographer, Mohamed al-Sheikh, who was detained around the same time, remains in custody, however, according to the same sources. Photographers Mohammad Ali al-Aradi of the daily Al-Bilad, Abdullah Hassan of the daily Al-Ayyam, and freelancer Nidal Nuh were detained on May 8, 14, and 18, respectively, local journalists and human rights activists told CPJ.