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Government bans news sent to mobile phones by text message; another website closed for a week

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned new media censorship in Yemen, where access to at least two websites has been blocked since the start of 2007, in one case for three months, and the information ministry is now censoring the distribution of news to mobile phones by SMS message.

"It is disturbing that the Yemeni government is attacking new technology in this way," the press freedom organisation said. "It never showed any open-mindedness towards the opposition media and these new arenas of expression offered a fresh opportunity for the media. The authorities have again demonstrated their determination to control news and information that is critical of them."

The al-Shora website, which regularly posted opposition articles, was closed on 24 February 2007. It was finally allowed to reopen on 23 May. The socialist website aleshteraki was similarly closed for a week, from 16 to 23 May. The government was worried by the fact that they were controlled by opposition parties. It was also concerned about their coverage of the fighting with the al-Houthi rebels in Saada province.

The information and telecommunications ministry has now banned several mobile phone news distribution services, including those proposed by the companies Nass mobile and Bela Qoyod mobile, on the grounds that they were not subject to sufficient control. The ministry nonetheless said that the authorities could offer such services.

SMS messages expressing criticism of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government had circulated in the weeks prior to the ban. The opposition parties denied being behind them. On 7 June, the government announced the start of a debate about a new press law, one concerning new media in particular.

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