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Violations against media freedoms in Yemen

Chiara Menghetti, GHRD

 

To watch the video: Click Here

The ongoing war between the government and the non-government forces in Yemen is now regarded as the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. More than 24 million people (some 80 per cent of the country’s population) are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

In March 2015, the Houthis movement, belonging to Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, took over the capital Sana’a, forcing the president and other senior government officials to flee. The war has now entered its sixth year. The hostile environment creates an extremely perilous task for the journalist to work in Yemen.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders underlines, “Yemen’s division between the so-called legitimate government, the areas controlled by the Houthi rebels and the separatists in the south, has exacerbated the media polarization along political and sectarian lines.”[1] Thus, Yemeni journalists are trapped in the middle of these forces.

Tawfik Al-Hamid, president of SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties, told Global Human Rights TV that “the three parties that are involved in the conflict see journalists as ‘war tools’.”In September 2015, after the Houthi militia took the capital, their leader described journalists as “traitors” and declared that “there must be action against them.”[2] According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “at least four news agencies in Yemen were raided.”[3]

Osama Al-Fakih, the director of media of Mwatana for Human Rights, a leading Yemeni Human Rights Group, told Global Human Rights TV that “in the area around Sana’a we can only find one discourse which is dominated by the Houthis. The newspapers or media outlets that used to have different discourses have been forced to close or to move to different areas or abroad.” Unsurprisingly, in the Press Freedom Index, Yemen ranked 167th out of 180 countries in 2019.[4]

While demands to put an end to violations of media freedom are voiced by local and international organizations, the conflicting parties still inflict all kinds of abuses, including killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, harassment, assaults, torture of journalists, attacks on media houses, the shutdown of media and confiscation of newspapers. In 2020, SAM published a report that highlights the violations against media and press freedoms to nearly 1,300 between 2015-2019. These involved “intrusion, looting and confiscation of more than 50 media outlets, 36 journalists were killed, and 234 cases of detention of journalists and media workers, 16 of whom are still in detention.”[5] The latest Yemeni Journalists Syndicate’s (YJS) report on the state of media freedom in the country revealed that 88 media rights violations took place only from January to the end of September 2020.[6]

On 11 April 2020, the international community, as well as local human rights organizations, were outraged by the sentence to death of four journalists carried out by the Houthi-run Specialized Criminal Court (SCC). The four, namely Akram Al-Walidi, Abdelkhaleq Amran, Hareth Hamid and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, were among the ten journalists who have been detained since the summer of 2015 on charges of “publishing and writing news, statements, false and malicious rumours and propaganda with the intent to weaken the defence of the homeland, weaken the morale of the Yemeni people, sabotage public security, spread terror among people and harm the country’s interest.”[7]

SAM explained to Global Human Rights TV that the sentence came after grossly unfair trials and four years of arbitrary detention. The journalists were denied access to medical care and their attorney, as well as family visits. Yemeni journalists highlighted that while harassment, arrests and torture were already forcing them to self-censor, now the looming persecution is driving people out of the profession.

More than 150 human rights and press freedom groups appealed to the UN mechanisms to help overturn the death penalty for the four Yemeni journalists and to ensure the safety and physical integrity of journalists. The International Federation for Journalists (IFJ), wrote a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, demanding the release of the four journalists sentenced to death and called for the release of the 20 journalists that are currently in jail in the country.[8]

 

A mourner stands with others showing the face of the murdered Yemeni journalist and AFP contributor Nabil Hasan Al-Qaiti. Photo credits: AFP

According to Mwatana, three things are required to improve the situation of press freedom in Yemen. First, to keep advocating for the release of the detained journalists immediately and unconditionally, without a change in their civilian status. Second, to push the warring parties and their allies to respect the rights of the journalists. Third, to respect local and international law, to protect civilians including journalists and improve press freedom in Yemen. Although the article 6 of the Yemeni Constitution reads that the country“adheres to the UN Charter, the International Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the Arab League, and Principles of International Law,” Osama Al-Fakih from Mwatana points out “what is written on paper is something, but the reality can be way different, and it can be much worse in armed conflicts.”

Journalism, especially independent and critical journalism, is vital to promote good governance, the rule of law and the respect for human rights. Even more in the context of armed conflicts, accurate and free news reporting is fundamental to uncover the truth and hold the conflicting parties accountable. Journalists are in no way actors in the conflict in Yemen and yet they are targeted which screams of gross violation of international humanitarian law that, as Ms. Bachelet points out, “may amount to war crimes.”[9]


[1] https://rsf.org/en/yemen

[2] https://samrl.org/pdf/1Dangerous%20career%20EN.pdf, p. 8

[3] https://www.voanews.com/press-freedom/whats-lost-truth-yemen-harassment-arrests-and-torture-drive-reporters-profession

[4] https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2020

[5] en/ranking/2020

[5] https://samrl.org/pdf/1Dangerous%20career%20-%20EN.pdf, p. 49

[6] https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/article/endimpunity-yemen.html

[7] https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1069652

[8] https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/press-releases/article/yemen-journalists-continue-facing-harsh-conditions-1.html

[9] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26152&LangID=E

 

 

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