Yemen shells TV station, news agency, online newspaper

New York, May 26, 2011Military forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh shelled Yemeni satellite broadcaster Suhail TV Wednesday as they exchanged fire with forces loyal to the political opposition and tribal gunmen. A similar incident occurred at the official Saba news agency on Tuesday. The offices of the news website Al-Sahwa Net were also hit multiple times in the ongoing exchanges of fire, according to local journalists.

“All sides in this conflict must understand that the intentional targeting of journalists and media installations is a serious offense–and potentially a war crime,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “We call on the Yemeni government to immediately cease its violence against the media.” 

According to news reports, the clashes began on Monday after military forces and plainclothes gunmen loyal to Saleh attacked military forces and tribal gunmen aligned with Yemen’s most influential tribal leader, Sadiq al-Ahmar, who joined the opposition in March. The attack came on the heels of arrest warrants for al-Ahmar and around 10 other prominent members of the tribe’s leadership. They are charged with “grand treason and armed rebellion,” state-owned media said.

Starting at about 2 p.m. on Wednesday, uniformed and plainclothes gunmen loyal to Saleh opened machine gun and mortar fire on the private satellite broadcaster Suhail TV, local media reported. The attack lasted well into the night.

The attack on the station, owned by a senior member of the al-Ahmar family, resulted in multiple injuries and the destruction of equipment, Khatab al-Rawhani, an anchorman at the station told CPJ. Cameraman Mohammad al-Mekhlafi suffered extensive shrapnel injuries and is in a stable condition in a Sana’a hospital today, al-Rawhani said. Another cameraman, Ahamd Firas, received minor injuries but did not require hospitalization. The attack destroyed computers, cameras, and the station’s archives, al-Rawhani said. It also resulted in the interruption of Suhail’s broadcast from 11 p.m. on Wednesday until 2 p.m. today, when transmission was restored, al-Rawhani told CPJ.

General security officials detained Suhail TV’s director of photography, Kamal al-Mahshadi, in front of the station in the early morning hours today, according to al-Rawhani. He added that a sympathetic official at one of the security apparatuses told Suhail TV employees that snipers on surrounding rooftops had received orders to kill Suhail TV employees on sight, a claim CPJ could not independently verify. Multiple journalists and managers at Suhail TV have received death threats in the past four months, CPJ research shows.

On Tuesday, armed elements loyal to al-Ahmar and the opposition attacked Saba’s headquarters, local media reported. State-owned media said that “projectiles fired by al-Ahmar’s militias” destroyed three stories in Saba’s building, as well as the news agency’s “technical infrastructure.” Al-Mu’tamar, an electronic publication owned by president Saleh’s ruling party said that two journalists–Faruq al-Kamali and Ahmad al-Mutawakil–were injured during the machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade attack.

Local journalists, however, told CPJ that al-Ahmar’s gunmen attacked and overran the Saba building after government snipers stationed on Saba’s rooftop kept firing on al-Ahmar’s compound across the street, as well as the headquarters of Suhail TV and Al-Sahwa Net, all of which are in the Sana’a neighborhood of al-Hasaba. CPJ research found that Al-Sahwa did not post any new materials on its website Tuesday or Wednesday, and a statement posted on the site late on Wednesday stated that the site could not be updated due to an electricity shutoff and difficulties in reaching the paper’s offices, which were subjected to two days of intermittent but heavy fire. They began updating their site again on Wednesday night.