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Baraa Shiban

The story of Nabeel al-Osaidy and Yemen's faltering press

Nabeel al-Osaidy was one of the lucky journalists who got out of Yemen alive [Facebook]

Date of publication: 3 May, 2017

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Baraa Shiban tells the story of Nabeel, who like many journalists in Yemen has lost his job and been chased out of the country, while others have been killed.

Speaking to Nabeel al-Osaidy – a member of the Journalist’s Syndicate in Yemen – has become a weekly routine for me. We speak almost every week to get updates on which journalist has been abducted, who is still alive, who has been released and who has been tortured. Nabeel keeps an updated record of almost all journalists whose rights have been violated.

In a teasing manner, I called him to congratulate him for World Press Freedom Day. “You mean you're passing your condolences," he replied.  

Nabeel is a known member of the syndicate who worked on providing training for journalists and organising press events in Yemen before the Houthis took control over Sanaa in September 2014.

The Houthis, an insurgency from the North of the country, allied with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, cracked down heavily on journalists and media outlets based in Sanaa immediately after taking over the capital.

The syndicate has documented 15 TV channels being closed down and more than 80 news websites shut down since September 2014

The syndicate has documented 15 TV channels being closed down and more than 80 news websites shut down since September 2014.

After Saudi Arabia led an aerial campaign against the Houthi and Saleh targets on March 2015, the crackdown on journalists intensified. Nabeel himself had first-hand experience with the Houthi members.

On April 23, 2015, almost a month after the Saudi-led coalition started its operations, Nabeel was meeting with the journalist’s syndicate members to discuss the abduction and torture of their colleagues when they received a call from Jalal al-Sharabi.

Jalal, also a journalist, had a quick and short message: “The Houthis have just stormed into my house after shooting at my car.”

The syndicate was later told that armed Houthi members chased Jalal’s car and shot bullets, injuring the driver and paralysing him. The armed men realised that Jalal wasn’t driving his vehicle so they headed towards his home and abducted him in front of his family. That was the last time Nabeel heard from Jalal.

Jalal, also a journalist, had a quick and short message: The Houthis have just stormed into my house after shooting at my car

Three hours later, Nabeel’s house was raided but thanks to Jalal, Nabeel was not home. He spent a couple of days in hiding before leaving for Taiz, central Yemen, where he spent another four months.

Nabeel says that he spent these months trying to report on the conflict from Taiz but he did not feel safe. The city was pounded day and night, mainly by Houthi and Saleh forces who have placed the city under siege.

Nabeel eventually travelled to Aden, South Yemen, and then to Saudi Arabia, as he had a valid visa from his time in the syndicate, before the embassy closed.

From Saudi Arabia he moved to Geneva to cover the Yemen peace talks that took place in Switzerland. Here he applied for a refugee status, but he is still waiting to hear a response from the Swiss immigration.

Nabeel is one of the few lucky journalists who managed to get out of the country alive. 

On Tuesday, the syndicate revealed that Mohammed al-Selwi, a journalist with Saba news agency, was abducted from a remote area in Taiz on October 17, 2016. He was tortured in a prison near Taiz before being transferred to Dhamar, south of Sanaa.

Abdulkhaliq Amran, another member, has been permanently paralysed after being tortured in Houthi prisons, his doctor says, and Yahia Al-Jubeihi was sentenced to death by a Houthi court in Sanaa in early April 2017.

The total number of journalists kidnapped in the past two years has reached 150 journalists; 18 of them are active members of the syndicate and two have forcefully disappeared.

The total number of journalists kidnapped in the past two years has reached 150 journalists, 18 of them are active members of the syndicate and two have been forcefully disappeared

Journalists used to complain about harassment and intimidation by authorities before September 2014 – but kidnapping, torture and forced disappearances are now a new Houthi-linked phenomena haunting the country.

In 2009, the Yemeni society were shocked when Saleh ordered the shut-down of Al-Ayam newspaper, which was one of his critics in the south of the country.

After the youth revolution in 2011, southern activists demanded quick and immediate compensation for Al-Ayam. The number of journalists – both male and female – doubled, new TV channels opened and news websites were established. Almost no journalist back then imagined they will be struggling to stay alive.

Today in Sanaa, there are no more newspapers, except the Houthi and Saleh owned ones. Most journalists have lost their jobs and many, like Nabeel, have been chased out of the country. In the past two years, 23 journalists have been killed.

Nabeel keeps telling me “nothing will bring them back except spreading the word and keeping their message alive,” and that is exactly what we now aim to do.


Baraa Shiban is a Yemeni human rights activist and a member of the Yemeni National Dialogue process. He worked in Yemen as a drone investigator with the human rights group Reprieve. Follow him on Twitter: @BShtwtr

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