Norwegian freelance journalist held in Yemen

New York, April 9, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for the immediate release of Raymond Lidal, a Norwegian freelance journalist who has been detained in Yemen for nearly two weeks, according to his friend and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lidal’s case was not publicly reported until Wednesday night.

Lidal, who has worked in Yemen as a freelance journalist since 2012, was detained in the capital, Sana’a, on the night of March 28 by security forces controlled by the Houthi movement, Foreign Ministry Head of Communications Frode Andersen told CPJ. Andersen said the ministry had been in contact with the “relevant authorities” but not with the journalist directly. He said the reason for Lidal’s detention was not clear.

“Independent reporting is vital if people in Yemen, around the region, and elsewhere are to know anything about what is happening at this critical time in the country’s history,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Sherif Mansour. “We urge Houthi forces to release Raymond Lidal immediately and for all sides clashing in Yemen to respect the role of journalists and allow them to work freely.”

Bergens Tidende, one of the newspapers that published Lidal’s work, reported without citing its sources that Lidal had been detained for not possessing press credentials while he was filming the Saudi-led coalition bomb Houthi targets in the capital. The report said he was on a student visa.

A friend of Lidal’s, who was in close contact with the journalist and asked not to be identified for security reasons, told CPJ the journalist was in Yemen studying the Arabic language. Lidal first visited the country in 2010 and began working in 2012 as a freelance journalist and contributed to multiple Norwegian outlets, including the state broadcaster NRK and Bergens Tidende, according to the newspaper. Lidal’s friend told CPJ that Lidal decided to stay in Yemen despite the deteriorating security situation.

“It was Yemen that inspired him to become a journalist,” Lidal’s friend told CPJ. “He did it for the stories he got to hear that touched him so much. He wanted to tell them to the people in Norway, who could not even place Yemen on the map.”

Lidal’s detention comes amid political and military clashes between multiple factions in the country. In September 2014, Houthi rebels overran Sana’a and other cities, forcing the government to resign and eventually prompting President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi to flee to Aden in the south, according to news reports. On March 25, as Houthi forces threatened to overrun Aden, Saudi Arabia announced it had launched airstrikes against Houthi positions in cooperation with a coalition of 10 countries.

The escalating conflict in Yemen has precipitated a rise in violations against the press, according to CPJ research. After the Houthi-controlled Ministry of Information issued a statement on March 25 warning outlets about their coverage, numerous outlets critical of the Houthi movement were raided, their staff temporarily detained, and their websites blocked, according to news reports. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said in a press conference on March 30 that media outlets supporting the Houthi movement “will be targeted” but did not specify how.

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.

  • For more data and analysis on Yemen, visit CPJ’s Yemen page here.