Foreign Policy Blogs

Yemen: Where Journalism Rhymes with Danger

As in other countries swept up by the “Arab Spring” movement which was initially born in Tunisia following the immolation of Mohamed Bou’azizi, a simple fruit seller driven to despair by the repressive and corrupt Tunisian regime; the Media has been playing an important role in the coverage of Yemen’s very own uprising.

Used by both the government and the Opposition as a tool to convince, recruit, galvanize or more simply inform; both the Media and the press have been at the center of it all.

And if the Yemeni government so far was making progress in regards to its Freedom of the Press record according to Human Right Watch, the uprising definitely minimized Yemen’s government tolerance threshold towards what could be written or even reported in the country.

Intimidation and Repression

Only last week, the International Federation of Journalists have warned that the regime was increasingly targeting reporters and TV crews as it reported the death of Fouad Abdul-Jabbar, a staff member of al-Saida TV which offices were assaulted by gunmen allegedly loyal to President Saleh.

“We condemn this despicable violence that targets journalists and media staff in Yemen. The Yemeni media is under siege by a group that is bent on the control of broadcasting the information in order to achieve their own interests,” said Jim Boumelha, the President of the IFJ.

The Yemeni Journalist Syndicate has also decried the systematic anti-press campaign conducted by the government as it said that Yemeni journalists came under renewed pressure receiving threatening phone calls or night visits of unsavory characters warning them of “things to come” if they did not stop reporting the events revolving around the uprising.

In its latest statement to the press the YJS claimed that the regime had singled out al-Saida TV Channel, as in the course of a few weeks it ordered the bombing of its building and the killing of its staff.

Afrah Nasser a young Yemeni journalist had to seek asylum in Sweden back in May as she received numerous threats from the regime, letting her to fear for her life and the security of her family.

Sadly, her account of repression is shared by many journalists across the nation for the regime is believed to be trying to prevent proper news coverage.

Elizabeth Costa actually summed up the situation quite eloquently when she said: “It seems that this is the season of catching the independent Yemeni journalists who refuse the interference in the affairs of their profession. The escalating wave of violence in the streets of Yemen has led to indiscriminate attack on all the journalists who are committed to their courageous proficiency. However, the world is watching what is happening in Yemen and these attacks will not pass without punishment.”

Media Blackout

If the Yemeni government has been battling independent journalism on the ground, trying to limit the actions of the country national journalists, it is also preventing foreign journalist to enter Yemen; in essence applying a Media blackout.

Since the beginning of the uprising and the first reported scenes of violence between the government forces and the revolutionaries, the regime has denied all press visas, using security matters as an excuse.

This “no-fly-press-zone” has played an important role in the lack of coverage that the country has suffered since February as newspapers and Channels could not get their teams on the ground, having to rely solely on the local press and the few freelancers already based in Yemen.

The very few who managed to get through the net came armed with students visa, risking to be deported at every moment if the government decides they have become a hindrance.

In Aden and other southern provinces, newspapers offices were raided and their publications either confiscated or destroyed. News websites were taken off the air, so do speak and readers had to rely on proxy servers to access the sites.

“Our job is becoming difficult but we will continue, “said a journalist based in Sana’a who for security reasons preferred to remain anonymous.

Interestingly enough, social activism has been filling the information gaps as more Yemeni turned to blog and social networks to spread news, images and videos of the events unfolding in the country.

“No matter how much they try to silence us, the truth will come out…technology is on our side,: said a young blogger in “change Square”.

From the Yemen Right Monitor to Facebook, Yemeni everywhere, have become journalists and website administrators, determined to fight state censorship and defy repression.

Yemeni Citizen Journalism is taking flight.



Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.