Sana’a: A surge in attacks on journalists in Yemen was revealed on Thursday despite media controls having been eased under the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.
The attacks, which threaten to overwhelm the country’s recent progress toward freedom of expression, are chronicled in a special 45-page Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, ‘A life-threatening career’: attacks on journalists under Yemen’s new government.
It states that Hadi, who replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh as president in February 2012, introduced welcome measures of freedom. But Yemeni journalists who were previously harassed by government security forces, now face threats from other quarters too, such as supporters of the former government, Huthi rebels, southern secessionists and religious conservatives.
And Hadi’s administration has failed to denounce, let alone prosecute, those responsible for assaults, threats and harassment against journalists, bloggers and other critics.
HRW’s report was compiled after its researchers made visits to Yemen between February and April 2013 and documented 20 attacks on journalists. One outspoken journalist, Wagdy Al Shabi, 28, was murdered in his home in Aden in February, along with a friend.
Al Shabi’s wife, who saw two gunmen wearing civilian clothes and military vests, was able to escape and hide with her children. No arrests have been made.
In other cases, journalists alleged that members of the security forces, or of groups they may have criticised, were responsible for assaulting them or issuing death threats.
Ahmed Said Nasser, the 35-year-old editor of a journal, said that he received several death threats after his publication implicated the former president in a 1977 political killing.
Another journalist, Hamdi Radman, 33, said that when he photographed army troops dispersing protesters in December 2012, three soldiers hit him with batons.
In all 20 cases examined by HRW, the journalists’ complaints were lodged with the relevant Yemeni authorities. But investigations, even if they occurred, were ineffectual. No one has been successfully prosecuted in any of the cases.
Statistics compiled by the Freedom Foundation, a group that monitors press freedom in Yemen, show that there were 260 separate incidents in 2012 involving acts against journalists and the media ranging from threats and harassment to enforced disappearance and attempted murder.
The government also prosecuted 19 journalists in 2012 for their writings, including some on criminal defamation charges, which can result in prison terms.
In the first half of 2013, the Freedom Foundation recorded 144 attacks and other hostile acts against journalists, newspapers and other media outlets.
During the same period, the government accused 74 journalists in 55 separate cases of violating the 1990 Press and Publications Law or other provisions, including criminal defamation charges.
Journalists face particular risks when reporting on corruption, which is a widespread and entrenched problem in Yemen.
Senior Yemeni officials told HRW during meetings in the capital, Sana’a, in February that Yemen’s political insecurity and instability remained the greatest challenge for the new Hadi administration.
They said this hampered their efforts to investigate attacks, not only on journalists, but also against their own security officers and government ministers.
Joe Stork, HRW’s acting Middle East director, said: “President Hadi’s failure to address the attacks on Yemeni journalists not only denies them justice, but makes the media as a whole afraid of further and more serious attacks.
“If the advances in free speech are to have a real and lasting impact on Yemeni society, the government should condemn and rigorously investigate all attacks on journalists and ensure those responsible are brought to justice.
“Yemen’s government needs to be much more active in ensuring that journalists don’t have to constantly look over their shoulder to protect themselves.”