Media outlets raided and banned as conflict spirals in Yemen

New York, March 27, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned for the safety of Yemeni journalists amid escalating violence in the country. Houthi forces have raided news outlets, detained journalists, and banned websites, while satellite TV operators ceased to broadcast stations that recently came under Houthi control, according to news reports.

“The media in Yemen should be allowed to report on the conflict, not become targets in it,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Sherif Mansour. “All outlets, regardless of perspective or affiliation, must be allowed to operate freely in Yemen during this critical time.”

Saudi Arabia announced on March 25 that it had launched airstrikes against Houthi positions in cooperation with a coalition of 10 countries, as Houthi forces drew close to the southern city of Aden. The foreign military intervention in Yemen is the latest escalation of political and military clashes between multiple factions, which has placed journalists in greater danger throughout the country.

Before the bombing began on Wednesday, the Ministry of Information–which like many government institutions has fallen under Houthi controlissued a statement on its Facebook page warning media outlets that they may be closed if they “ignite the flames of sectarianism or regionalism or tear the social fabric and national unity” by publishing false news or insulting “the revolution of our proud people.”

The following day, Houthi gunmen raided and ransacked at least four news outlets–Al-Jazeera, Suhail TV, Yemen Youth TV, and Al-Masdar newspaper–in Sanaa, according to statements issued by the outlets. Al-Masdar editor Samir Jubran told the news outlet gunmen “kidnapped practically everyone who was there and took away all of our equipment.” Suhail TV reported that several of its staff had been taken captive. Both outlets later reported that their staff were released after a few hours.

Local press freedom group Freedom Foundation reported that three other offices–Al-Saeedah TV, Maeen TV, and Yemen Digital Media–were also raided by Houthi gunmen. CPJ could not independently confirm that report.

Access to at least six news websites and Web portals critical of the Houthi movement–Al-Sahwa Net, Yemen Press, Yemen Voice, Mareb Press, Yemen Saeed, Sahafa Net–were blocked yesterday, according to local news reports and statements from the sites. In a statement on its Facebook page, Mareb Press called the move a “dangerous escalation against freedom of the press.” The website, and several others that were blocked, posted on social media ways their readers could circumvent the block, or established alternative sites for publication.

According to reports, Yemeni Internet provider Yemen Net implemented the blocking of the websites. The Public Telecommunication Corporation is responsible for the country’s primary Internet service providers. Neither the corporation or Yemen Net responded to requests for comment. It is not clear if the bans and raids were related to the Ministry of Information statement. The ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

In an apparently separate incident, independent news website Saadah Press said in a statement on its Facebook page Thursday that its website was “under fierce attack” by supporters of the Islamic State and takfiris, an Arabic term for Muslims who declare other Muslims to be infidels. The website, which was operating as recently as March 16 according to Internet archive Wayback Machine, was inaccessible at the time of publication.

Separately, Egyptian satellite companies Nilesat and the Emirati company Etisalat ceased broadcasting Yemen TV, Saba TV, Al-Eman TV, and Aden TV by stopping the channels’ transmission, according to news reports. The stations, run through the governmental Yemen General Corporation for Radio and TV, fell under Houthi control after the movement overran the capital, Sanaa, last year. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have announced support for the military intervention against the Houthis in Yemen. Earlier this week, Yemen TV broadcast the announcement that a 20 million rial (US$90,000) bounty was being offered by the Houthi movement for the capture of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the reports said. The official Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV channel continues to broadcast unhindered through Nilesat and Etisalat, according to reports.

The raids and bans come amid a heightened level of violence against journalists. Earlier in March, two unknown gunmen shot and killed award-winning journalist and Houthi-affiliated politician Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani outside his home, according to news reports. Khaled al-Washli, a Yemeni correspondent for Al-Masirah TV, died in an explosion while covering attempts by Houthi militiamen to defuse a bomb in the city of Dhamar on January 4. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for both attacks, according to news reports.