Yemeni government forces arrest cameraman

New York, August 22, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the continuing deterioration of conditions for journalists operating in Yemen. On August 12, authorities detained Ahmed Firas, a cameraman for Suhail TV. According to one local journalist, Firas’ detention may be related to his work at the pro-revolution news station. 

Government forces arrested Firas and confiscated his equipment when he was returning from a visit to his hometown, Arhab, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) north of Sana’a, the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate told CPJ. The journalist’s wife, mother, and daughters were also in the car and were detained briefly, local news website News Yemen reported. The cameraman was initially being held at the Dulaimi air force base near Sana’a. On Friday, government forces referred his case to the criminal investigation department, local reports said. CPJ cannot confirm where the journalist is being held. He has not been charged yet.

“We call on the authorities to immediately release Ahmed Firas,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “This is not the first time that Suhail TV has been attacked for its coverage of the revolution. The situation for journalists in Yemen is deteriorating at an alarming rate.”

CPJ reported on an attack by government forces in May against Suhail TV, in which computers, cameras, and the station’s archives were destroyed. Firas was also injured in the attack. Multiple journalists and managers at the station have also received death threats in the past seven months, CPJ research found. A senior member of the journalists’ syndicate told CPJ that he and his family were forced to leave the capital since they were under threat of being kidnapped or killed.

On Friday, the journalists’ syndicate held a demonstration calling for the release of detained journalists Abdulelah Hider Shaea and Firas. Shaea was detained on August 16, 2010, after a group of soldiers stormed his family’s house in Sana’a. The journalist, who has frequently appeared on Al-Jazeera as a commentator, was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of aiding Al-Qaeda. CPJ has repeatedly called for his release.

Due to the ongoing conflicts in Yemen, several phone lines are out of order and CPJ has faced difficulties in reaching journalists and other contacts.