Statement of HRW Yemen: Attacks on Journalists Escalate
End Arbitrary Detention, Mistreatment
MARCH 23, 2015
© 2015 Nadia Abdullah
(Sanaa) – Houthi forces and others in Yemen have committed a spate of attacks and other abuses against the media amid deteriorating political and security conditions.
In recent weeks, there has been an increase in arbitrary arrests and violence against journalists and other media workers by Ansar Allah, the Zaidi Shia armed group known as the Houthis that now controls the capital, Sanaa. Armed Ansar Allah militia has stormed the headquarters of three media outlets since January 2015. Other groups may also be involved in attacks. On March 18, unidentified gunmenkilled Abdul Karim Mohammed al-Khaiwani, an Ansar Allah supporter and critic of the former government, near his home in Sanaa.
“The breakdown in security across Yemen has put the country’s media in particular danger,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “All sides in Yemen should send a clear message to their forces to stop threats and attacks against journalists.”
Ansar Allah has controlled much of northern Yemen since September 2014, and in January 2015 effectively ousted President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, sparking widespread protests. On February 8, Yemen’s interim interior minister ordered Sanaa police to prevent all unauthorized demonstrations due to “the exceptional circumstances” in Yemen. This indefinite ban on public protests violates the right to peaceful assembly, Human Rights Watch said. Five employees of state broadcast and print media outlets told Human Rights Watch that since taking control of Sanaa, Ansar Allah has inserted its own people into senior positions at various media outlets.
Human Rights Watch documented seven incidents involving attacks on journalists and the media between December 31, 2014, and March 7, 2015. Ma`d al-Zekri, a cameraman for Azal TV, told Human Rights Watch that armed men took him and his 20-year-old brother from their home at 1:30 a.m. on December 31, 2014, blindfolded them, and drove them to a building where the men held the brothers in separate rooms. Al-Zekri said a man interrogated him about a news clip he had made about the Islamist militant group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that had aired in October, and demanded to know where an AQAP leader al-Zekri had interviewed could be found.
The cameraman said he was kept blindfolded, given electric shocks, had dirty water poured over him, and was given food and a restroom visit only once each day. “On the third day some men came in, apologized for having detained me, and said it had been a mistake,” al-Zekri told Human Rights Watch. They then warned him “not to write about or against Al-Qaeda as much,” and freed him and his brother. Al-Zekri filed a complaint with the police and the attorney general but the authorities told him they could do nothing and he should take his complaint to Ansar Allah directly.
Kamal Gamal of Suhail TV told Human Rights Watch that armed men in civilian clothes detained him and a cameraman, Yahya al-A`awar, on February 3, 2015, as they filmed a political polling process among students at Sanaa University. Gamal said the two men spoke into walkie talkies, told them that no photography or filming was permitted, and detained them when they kept filming. The armed men held the two journalists on the campus until police came and took them to a police station. Hours later, the police returned their equipment and released them.
Saif al-Haddiri, chairman of the al-Shumoa Press Foundation, which prints four publications, told Human Rights Watch that about 40 armed men believed to be Ansar Allah forced their way into the foundation’s offices on February 5. They ordered all staff to leave the five-story building, then seized computers, broadcasting and other equipment, videos, and CDs whose total value he estimated at US$18,600. Some wore military-style uniforms while others were in civilian clothes and carried slogans in support of Ansar Allah. More than a month later, the men still control the foundation’s building and continue to remove property from it, al-Haddiri said.
Ameen Dabwan, a correspondent for Yemen Shabab TV, told Human Rights Watch that five armed men in police uniforms with Ansar Allah stickers detained him on February 6 as he filmed an anti-Ansar Allah demonstration in Sanaa’s Change Square. They took his camera and later his cell phone and detained him overnight at the police station with five arrested protesters, threatening to beat them. Police released him after 24 hours but did not return his camera or his phone.
Nabil al-Sharabi, an editor at Akhbar al-Yom newspaper, told Human Rights Watch that on March 5, five men carrying assault rifles bearing Ansar Allah stickers broke into the building housing the newspaper’s staff.