New York, January 10, 2018--The Yemeni government should allow the Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera to immediately reopen its Taiz office, and permit journalists in Yemen to do their jobs unencumbered, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Soldiers acting on orders from the Taiz Governorate Security Committee closed the office yesterday, according to Saeed Thabit Saeed, director of Al-Jazeera in Yemen.
A video posted on Al-Jazeera Yemen's Facebook page shows men with guns dressed in military fatigues and red berets bearing the Yemeni military insignia at the channel's Taiz bureau. Saeed told CPJ the group showed up, and demanded that the office close.
The Taiz Security Committee said in a statement, which Al-Jazeera later published in an abridged format, that it ordered the Taiz offices to close because of the channel's alleged attempts to create divisions between "legitimate authorities," referring to the Aden-based government, and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which supports the government. The committee also cited Al-Jazeera's negative coverage of the Yemeni Army's campaign against the Ansar Allah movement, commonly known as the Houthis, as a reason for the bureau's closure.
"Yemen's journalists are already operating in unprecedented danger, and international journalists have very little access to the country," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. "For authorities to stop an international outlet in a frontline city from broadcasting is tantamount to silencing the country's few remaining voices, and mirrors the practices long seen in Houthi-controlled areas. Authorities must immediately allow Al-Jazeera's journalists in Taiz to resume work."
The Taiz security directorate media office did not immediately respond to CPJ's request for comment. CPJ was unable to locate contact information for the Taiz security committee.
Saeed told CPJ that, based on multiple sources, he believes the closure is a result of pressure from the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which support the internationally recognized government based in Aden and its allies.
CPJ was unable to confirm Saeed's allegation.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington DC and the Ministry of Defense in Riyadh did not immediately respond to requests for comment, sent via email and the ministry's website respectively. A phone call to the UAE Embassy in Washington DC's media office was not immediately returned.
Saudi Arabia closed Al-Jazeera's bureau in the kingdom last year following a diplomatic dispute between Qatar and several other countries in the region. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with Bahrain and Egypt, blocked Al Jazeera's website in their countries, alleging that the broadcaster is an arm of the Qatari state, according to news reports.
Saeed said that authorities have only closed the channel's Taiz office, but bureaus throughout territory controlled by the Yemeni government have received threats from unknown sources.
Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of other Arab states and Senegal in a military coalition against the Houthi movement, which controls territory in the country's North and West as well as the capital Sanaa. Until last year, the group also controlled Taiz. The coalition, which receives arms and assistance such as mid-air refueling from the U.S., has killed a number of journalists since it began bombing Yemen in 2015, CPJ has documented.
At least two journalists were killed in Yemen in 2017, both in Taiz, and Houthi forces continue to detain and target independent journalists operating in areas under their control. Additionally, the Saudi-led coalition has barred nearly all international journalists from entering the country, including a crew for the U.S. television show "60 Minutes" in November 2017, CBS reported.