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Key Developments

» Press faces threats from state and non-state actors alike.

» Freelance journalist is pardoned after three years in prison.

The state of press freedom in Yemen in 2013 reflected the overall uncertainty and insecurity of a country in transition after decades of rule under President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The press faced serious consequences for failing to navigate a complicated web of red lines from the government, tribal groups, and political factions. Many journalists received death threats after crossing those red lines, and several were threatened or attacked by various assailants. CPJ documented at least seven journalists who were abducted over the year, all of whom were later released. Journalists covering protests related to the anniversary of the brief civil war in the country were assaulted by demonstrators, unidentified gunmen, and government security forces. The government continued to prosecute journalists for a range of charges, including defamation and insulting public officials. Still, there were some reasons for optimism. Freelance journalist Abdulelah Hider Shaea was freed in July after three years’ imprisonment, and CPJ documented no Yemeni journalists in prison for the first time since 2009. For the second year in a row, CPJ documented no journalists killed in relation to their work.

  • 1,072

    Days of detention
  • 33

    Threats against journalists
  • 7

  • 17

    Violations in a month

Freelance journalist Abdulelah Hider Shaea was issued a presidential pardon and released in July after spending almost three years in prison on anti-state charges. He was sentenced in January 2011 to five years in prison for  “belonging to an illegal armed organization” and  “recruiting young people, including foreigners, to the organization by communicating with them via the Internet,” according to news reports.

CPJ and others said the charges appeared to have been lodged in retaliation for his coverage of extremist groups and the Yemeni government’s security practices.

With Shaea’s release, CPJ documented no Yemeni journalists in prison for the first time since 2009.

Imprisonments in Yemen over time:

The local media watchdog Freedom Foundation documented at least 33 cases of threats against journalists in the first half of 2013 alone. Threats originating from government officials, criminals, tribes, political parties, and others have become so common that it is not always clear which red line a journalist has crossed, according to CPJ research.

Breakdown of three threats:

Mohammed Ayesh

Ayesh, editor-in-chief of the daily independent Al-Oula, told CPJ in April that he received several messages from domestic and international phone numbers in which unidentified individuals threatened to cut off his hand and tongue. Al-Oula had published an article on April 9 accusing groups in Marib province of sabotaging power lines. Ayesh said the individuals threatening him said they were defending the “honor” of the province. He also said that the threats could have been an attempt to censor his paper, which had published several articles critical of the government and religious groups.

Fathi Bin Lazrak

Bin Lazrak, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Aden al-Ghad, received a death threat via text message on May 5, the newspaper reported. The sender threatened to “physically liquidate” him and burn down his newspaper. Aden al-Ghad, an independent daily based in the southern city of Aden, is known for critical reporting on the federal government based in the north. Bin Lazrak told CPJ it was not clear if the threat had come from the same assailants who had recently opened fire on the paper’s distribution truck.

Al-Sharea newspaper

An unidentified person made multiple threats against the independent daily in Sana’a in September, news reports said. It was unclear how the threats were delivered, but Al-Sharea was told to “stop the publication of any news about Al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia,” or the individual would “burn the newspaper office with those people who are inside,” the paper said. The paper called on the Interior Ministry to investigate the threats and hold the perpetrator to account, but to date no one has been held responsible.

At least seven journalists were abducted in 2013, according to CPJ research. Some of the journalists were targeted for the work they published, in hope of getting a ransom, and to gain leverage for economic and political concessions from the government, according to CPJ research.

Breakdown of abductions:

April 7, 2013

Gunmen briefly abducted Naif Hassan and Nashwan Dammaj, editors for the daily independent Al-Sharea, while they were on a reporting trip in the northern province of Al-Jawf, the paper reported. The assailants held the journalists for half an hour before armed tribal group members ordered their release. The journalists were unharmed.

May 15, 2013

News reports said that armed tribesmen abducted at least three journalists in Marib province. The journalists--Yassin Alzikri, editor-in-chief of Economic Media magazine; Ibrahim al-Ashmori, president of the reports division of Al-Thawra daily newspaper; and Ahmed al-Shamiri, writer for the Saudi Okaz daily newspaper--were released after more than a week in captivity.

June 2013

Unidentified gunmen kidnapped Dutch journalist Judith Spiegel, a Yemen correspondent for Radio Netherlands Worldwide, and her husband in Sana'a in the second week of June, according to her employer. The two were released in December.

December 3, 2013

The local press freedom group Freedom Foundation reported that Sera'a al-Shehari was kidnapped by unknown assailants on her way home from work in Sana'a. Al-Shehari, a reporter for the TV station Al-Masirah, was released the next day.

CPJ documented an escalation of anti-press violations in April, especially as political tensions rose in the lead-up to the April 27 anniversary of the 1994 civil war. At least 17 assaults, threats, kidnappings, prosecutions, and detentions were reported in one month.

Anti-press violations in April:

1 Prosecution
2 Abductions
8 Assaults
5 Threats
1 Detentions

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