New York, April 12, 2012–Prominent Yemeni journalist Muhammad al-Maqaleh was assaulted by armed men affiliated with a tribal group while visiting a government official’s house, the journalist told the Committee to Protect Journalists today. Al-Maqaleh has widely reported on the activities of tribal groups in Yemen.
Al-Maqaleh, editor of the news website Aleshteraki for the Yemeni Socialist Party, visited Defense Minister Mohamed Nasser Ahmed’s residence on Saturday in the capital, Sana’a, to inquire about the large presence of armed men dressed in military uniforms in the neighborhood, he told CPJ. When the journalist began speaking to the men outside the house–who were aligned with Yemen’s most influential tribal group, the al-Ahmar family–they began attacking him with their rifle butts and threatened him repeatedly, news reports said. The journalist did not have any injuries, but the group broke the windshield of his car, al-Maqaleh told CPJ. Although the defense minister was present during the assault, he did not stop the men because he did not have authority over them, al-Maqaleh said.
Various armed elements have been stationed in residential areas in Sana’a for several months, claiming to protect citizens and officials, but actually trying to intimidate them, al-Maqaleh said. The journalist said he believed the men attacked him because they knew he was the journalist who had repeatedly criticized the activities of the armed factions affiliated with the tribal groups and were angered by him speaking out against them.
“The attack on Muhammad al-Maqaleh shows just how dangerous it is to be a journalist in Yemen when even the defense minister looks on helplessly when armed men beat a critical reporter,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “The government must enforce the rule of law and protect journalists from assault.”
Al-Maqaleh, a longtime critic of the Yemeni government, has faced severe harassment and detention at the hands of authorities in the past, CPJ research shows. He was seized by unidentified men in September 2009 and kept in government custody for months.
CPJ has documented a stream of attacks against journalists in Yemen since political unrest erupted last year, including deaths, physical assaults, detentions, harassments, and attacks on news outlets.