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IFJ warns press freedom remains under siege after threats against editor

(IFJ/IFEX) - 6 February 2012 - The interim leadership in Yemen must act decisively to stop the diehard supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh from perpetuating control over public media in Yemen, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said today. The Federation was reacting to news of a siege laid by Saleh's supporters to government-owned Althawra newspaper last week to prevent publication after the editor removed the picture of the former leader on the front page, threatening to overrun the offices and attack the editor and staff.

"This is a serious incident which also represents a test of the interim leadership's commitment to genuine change, including respect to press freedom," said IFJ President, Jim Boumelha. "Yemeni journalists are rightly incensed by such a blatant interference in their affairs by fanatics of a regime which made control of media a key feature of their rule. We hold the current authorities responsible for the safety of our colleagues and those who threatened the editor and staff must be tracked down and punished."

According to the Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate, supporters of the ex leader who stepped down from office last month surrounded the offices of Althawra newspaper on Thursday after its editor and JYS President, Yassine Al Massoud, removed the photo of the former head of state from the front page. The action prevented the newspaper's publication until staff were compelled at gunpoint to insert an apology in the paper. The YJS also said that Al Massoud received threats following his decision.

In the meantime, the IFJ wrote to US State Secretary, Hilary Clinton, to demand that the administration lift its objection to the release of Yemeni journalist Abdul-Elah Haidar Shaye who was pardoned by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but is kept behind bars at the behest of US President Barack Obama.

Shaye, who was detained in August 2010 on allegations of links with Al-Qaeda and is believed to have been tortured, should have been released last year as part of the concessions to protesters made by President Saleh. But he is being kept in prison for an indefinite period following a personal intervention by President Obama.

"We cannot understand the intervention by your president insisting that Shaye be kept in jail indefinitely despite being pardoned, "said Boumelha in his letter to Mrs Clinton. "This, in our view, undermines your public defense of human rights."

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