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Clampdown on militants used as excuse to stifle free expression

Yemeni editors were arrested during a military siege of a newspaper office.
Yemeni editors were arrested during a military siege of a newspaper office.

via IPI

An independent newspaper critical of the Yemeni government's policies was under military siege last week and its editors were arrested, report IFEX members. Yemen's intense clampdown on militants is being used as an excuse to stifle media freedom, say the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Yemeni authorities are unhappy with the "Al Ayyam" newspaper's coverage of government clashes with opposition groups in south Yemen.

On 4 January security forces surrounded the office of "Al Ayyam" where journalists were demonstrating against the banning of the newspaper since May and other press freedom violations, report RSF, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Yemeni Journalists Syndicat (YJS), an International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) affiliate.

Police brutally dispersed the crowd of demonstrators which included journalists, activists and opposition politicians. Editor Hisham Bashraheel told RSF: "The security forces started firing on the crowd at 4:07 p.m. (local time). The police even aimed at one of their own number to make it look like the demonstrators were armed, when in fact everyone came to protest peacefully." At least nine people were injured and two killed, reports CPJ.

On the third day of the siege, security forces arrested the editor and his son, Hani Bashraheel, the managing editor, along with another son. They were flown to the capital, Sana'a. Charges against them have not been made public.

"'Al-Ayyam' is one of the few newspapers in Yemen that owns its own printing press" and the government cannot control its publication, comments IPI. The newspaper's "independence, as well as the fact that it is a southern voice, has been at the basis of the government's pressure," says IPI. Separatist sentiment in impoverished regions of southern Yemen spurred an upsurge in violence since April 2009.

Starting last May the Yemeni government launched several attacks on the press: newspapers have been banned, journalists detained and at least one journalist has been disappeared, reports CPJ. "Al-Ayyam" staff have received death threats and the office was fired upon by police last May.

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