Houthi Yemenis chant slogans during a rally to show support for their comrades in Sana'a, Yemen, on Wednesday. (AP/Hani Mohammed)
Houthi Yemenis chant slogans during a rally to show support for their comrades in Sana'a, Yemen, on Wednesday. (AP/Hani Mohammed)

Journalists targeted while covering protests in Yemen

New York, January 28, 2015–Several journalists have been attacked, detained, or their equipment seized in Sana’a in recent days, while at least one journalist has been reported missing, according to news reports and a local press freedom group. The anti-press violations occurred while journalists were covering protests against the Houthi militia’s takeover of the Yemeni capital last week.

“Security in Yemen has deteriorated sharply since the Houthi group has seized control of the capital,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa’s program coordinator. “We call on all sides in Yemen to respect the civilian status of journalists and allow the media to work safely and freely during this critical juncture.”

Thousands of Yemenis gathered since the weekend to march in a show of solidarity with former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who resigned last week, according to news reports. Houthi militia have taken over government buildings, including the presidential palace, news reports said.

Armed men this morning kidnapped Yousef Ajlan, assistant editor of the local news outlet Almasdar Online, and drove him away in a vehicle, according to his employer and the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate. Almasdar Online identified the journalist’s abductors as Houthi militia. At the time he was abducted, Ajlan was covering protests in Sana’a.

On Monday, Yahya al-Suwari, a cameraman for the news website Al-Yemen Al-Jadid, was beaten and his camera confiscated, according to the local news website News Yemen and other news reports. The reports identified the kidnappers as Houthi militia. It is unclear if al-Suwari is still being held.

Sky News correspondent Mohammed al-Qadhi posted on his Facebook page on Monday that he and his cameraman, Sami al-Ansi, had been detained by who he said were Houthi gunmen and that they were later freed. He said that the day before, another Houthi gunman had pointed an AK47 at them while they were filming in front of the parliament building during protests.

Other journalists were beaten or briefly detained and interrogated on Monday, according to news reports and the local press freedom group Freedom Foundation. According to the reports, the journalists included Hael al-Bakali, correspondent for TV satellite station Suhail; Suhail TV cameramen Maher al-Habishi and Abdallah al-Rouhani; Reuters cameraman Khalid Al-Mehdi; Al-Hurra TV cameraman Mohamad Abdallah Eida; Al-Arab TV camera crew members Asem al-Sabr and Mohamad al-Shmiri; Haitham al-Shehab, reporter for the independent daily Al-Ahali; Ghamdan al-Samei, reporter for the news website Yamanat; and Al-Yemen Al-Jadid reporter Bkeil Afif. The reports did not specify how any of the journalists were beaten or how long they were held.

On Sunday, gunmen detained Reuters photojournalist Mohammed al-Sayighi; Samed al-Samei, reporter for the independent daily Al-Oula; and Yahya Ahmad al-Qabati, correspondent for the independent news website Yemen Journal, according to news reports and the Freedom Foundation. The reports said many of the gunmen were members of the Houthi militia. Al-Sayighi was beaten with guns and his camera was confiscated, Freedom Foundation reported. He was interrogated and released after an hour, the press freedom group said. Al-Samei told CPJ that he was beaten and taken to a local police station, where his ID, phone, and camera were seized. He said he was held for 10 hours before being released.

The unrest in Yemen has made it a dangerous place for journalists. Earlier this month, Yemeni journalist Khaled al-Washli was killed while covering attempts to defuse a bomb that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed to have left. The militant group also held Luke Somers hostage. The American freelance journalist was killed during a failed attempt to rescue him in December.