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Police raid paper, wound three

North Yemen merged with South Yemen in 1990 to become unified Yemen
North Yemen merged with South Yemen in 1990 to become unified Yemen

This morning (13 May) police surrounded and opened fire on the office of Yemen's leading independent daily, the latest target of the government's crackdown on the media, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other IFEX members.

The government blames the media for fomenting unrest in the country's south where the military has clashed with the Southern Movement opposition group. Allegedly annoyed with "Al-Ayyam"'s coverage of the conflict and refusal to toe the official line, police surrounded the paper's office in Aden on 13 May and opened fire, resulting in injuries to three staff members.

The shooting follows sustained police harassment since the beginning of May, when police laid siege to the office, preventing distribution of all 70,000 copies of the paper and searching employees. The paper has not resumed production.

Dozens of protesters gathered in front of the besieged paper's offices on 4 May to protest the government's action, with the police eventually dispersing the demonstrators, reported the "Al-Ayyam" website. On 6 May, the authorities shut the website down.

Lawsuits have been filed against "Al-Ayyam"'s staff, and authorities have repeatedly confiscated and burned copies of the paper as well as harassed the paper's distribution drivers, says ARTICLE 19. Employees have also received threatening phone calls and notes.

"This might be my last phone call," said Bashraheel Bashraheel, "Al-Ayyam" general director on the phone to ARTICLE 19. "I appeal to all freedom advocates to support us and help in lifting the siege."

Bashraheel says that "Al-Ayyam" has incurred losses amounting to US$400,000 as a result of the measures.

Other newspapers have suffered government harassment. Last week, authorities barred the sale of seven other papers - "Al-Masdar", "Al-Wattani", "Al-Diyar", "Al-Mustaqila", "Al-Nida", and "Al-Share" and "Al-Ahali" - to prevent coverage of the conflict in the south. According to Minister of Information Hassan Ahmed, the newspapers had published material that worked against national unity and the country's interests and that "spread hatred and enmity among the united people of Yemen."

The police campaign against the Yemeni press and journalists came a few days after President Ali Abdullah Saleh voiced his anger over what he described as "the separatists of the south."

"There is an intense and dangerous campaign of incitement against independent newspapers," Sami Ghali, editor of "Al-Nida", told CPJ. "Imams of Yemeni mosques received instructions to welcome the government decisions to suspend newspapers."

In a separate incident, on 4 May, security officers arrested Fuad Rashid, the owner and publisher of the Al-Mukalla Press website, during a raid in Mukalla, Hadramoot and took him to an unknown location. The website had covered the recent clashes. Blogger Yahya Barnahfud was arrested on 10 May.

In another disturbing development, CPJ reports that authorities have announced a special court to try media and publishing offences, amid protests from journalists and human rights defenders. Minister of Justice Ghazi Shayef Al-Aghbari said the decision to establish this "special press court" was "not politically motivated, but purely professional."

According to CPJ, Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani, an independent journalist who has repeatedly been harassed by the judiciary and imprisoned, described the court as a "huge step backward" and a "flagrant violation of the constitution and international law."

Arafat Mudabish, chief editor of Al Tagheer news website, said leading journalists and activists in Yemen have regarded the confiscation measure and harassment tactics against all media as an "unprecedented massacre" on journalism in Yemen.

"The only solution to the problems of the South is through dialogue and addressing the origin of the problems and not through muzzling the press and terrorising journalists," said ANHRI.

Dissatisfied groups in the south of the country have increasingly accused authorities of marginalising the region, which merged with the north in 1990. Since early April there have been sporadic armed clashes between government forces and armed protesters in the south of the country, including a 27 April protest in Sana'a marking the anniversary of a failed uprising against the government in 1994. At least 14 Yemeni troops and civilians were killed last week in the clashes, The Associated Press reported.

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    (ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 13 May, 2009 - This morning police surrounded and opened fire on the offices of independent daily Yemeni newspaper Al Ayyam, resulting in injuries to three staff.

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