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Thirty IFEX members appeal to Saleh to stop free expression abuses

Thirty IFEX members have come together to condemn the attacks on journalists and free expression in Yemen, where one journalist has been killed and dozens of others have been attacked since political unrest broke out in January.

In an open letter to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the members "call on the Yemeni authorities to immediately halt all attacks against the media and to ensure the protection and safety of journalists covering events in the country."

Jamal al-Sharaabi, a photojournalist for the independent weekly "Al-Masdar", was among 52 individuals killed by security forces who opened fire on an 18 March demonstration in Sana'a against Saleh's 33-year-long rule. New accounts described at least some of the gunmen as snipers. Several hundred more civilians were wounded, including a photojournalist, working for the BBC Arabic service, who was not identified by name, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Saleh declared emergency rule hours later, which effectively suspends the constitution, allows media censorship, bars street protests, and gives security forces sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects without judicial process, says Human Rights Watch.

The Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate (YJS) has documented more than 50 attacks on journalists since political unrest began in January, including abductions, assaults, confiscation of equipment and threats of violence.

For instance, Abdel Ghani al-Shamiri, former head of the news division at Yemeni state television was abducted from his home in Sana'a by plainclothes security agents on 31 March, say YJS and Reporters without Borders (RSF). Earlier last month, al-Shamiri resigned from the ruling party and declared his support for the popular uprising.

Al Jazeera has been particularly targeted. Since 24 March, the popular news station has been ordered shut and its journalists stripped of accreditation. The station had been providing extensive coverage of the uprising. Its closure came two days after about 20 plainclothes gunmen raided Al Jazeera's Sana'a bureau and confiscated equipment while police stood idly by. Al Jazeera correspondents have reported numerous death threats and threats of physical violence against themselves and their families, and some have even been expelled, reports CPJ.

On 23 March, government supporters assaulted Al Jazeera cameraman Mujib al-Suwailah and broke his arm while he filmed demonstrations in Taizz, Yemen's third-largest city.

The authorities have also obstructed newspaper distribution that contained coverage of the protests, say the members. Copies of the 17 and 18 March issues of "Akhbar Al-Yom" were seized at the airport in Sana'a to prevent them being sent around the country. On 15 March, the authorities prevented distribution of the latest issue of the Aden-based newspaper "Al-Oumana" in the capital.

Human Rights Watch has documented repeated armed attacks by security forces and government supporters in civilian clothes on protesters who have been seeking Saleh's resignation. At least 82 people have been killed and hundreds injured during the attacks, according to Human Rights Watch investigations. On 4 April, at least six were killed when security forces opened fire on an anti-government protest in Taizz.

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