New York, July 15, 2019 — Yemeni and Saudi authorities must disclose freelance journalist Yahya al-Sawari’s whereabouts and release him immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On July 3, in Al-Ghaydah, the capital of Al-Mahra governorate, Yemeni security forces arrested al-Sawari, a freelance journalist at the time reporting for the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, an independent Yemeni research organization, according to his employer, news reports, and a statement published on Facebook by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, an independent trade group and advocacy organization.
On July 5, the Sana’a Center published a report under al-Sawari’s name accompanied by an introductory note saying that the journalist was attempting to interview protesters at the central hospital in Al-Ghaydah who were injured by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, when he was arrested and taken to the local office of the country’s Criminal Investigation Police. Al-Sawari’s family were later told that he was no longer at the police office, but could not determine where he was being held or by whom or on what charge, according to that report.
Yemeni news website Almawqea Post and other local media have reported that al-Sawari was brought to Al-Ghaydah airport and handed over to the Saudi forces controlling the facility.
In 2017, al-Sawari was detained for seven months by Ansar Allah–also known as the Houthis, an armed rebel group in Yemen fighting the government and Saudi forces–according to an article he wrote for the website of the al-Islah party, a Yemeni Islamist political party.
“As if we needed an illustration that journalists in Yemen are taking huge risks no matter what they report, the Saudi-backed authorities have arrested Yahya al-Sawari, who says he already spent months detained by the Houthi rebels,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said from Washington, D.C. “Yemeni authorities and the Saudi armed forces should disclose where al-Sawari is being held and should release him immediately and unconditionally.”
CPJ sent a message to the Yemeni Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the Criminal Investigation Police, through a contact page on its website and emailed the Saudi Ministry of Defense for comment, but did not immediately receive any response.
Al-Sawari works in Al-Mahra as a freelance journalist and photographer, according to Almawqea Post. Nabil Alosaidi, co-chair of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, told CPJ that al-Sawari previously served in the Yemeni government’s armed forces.
According to CPJ research, journalists have been imprisoned, threatened, and detained by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.