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Diana Alghoul

The Houthis war on words in Yemen

The Houthis took over media outlets and waged war on those who didn't comply [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 May, 2017

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Journalists are routinely targeted, subject to torture, detention and disappearances, with death waiting at their doorsteps in Yemen.
In February 2011, Yemenis rose up against a dictator that ruled Yemen with an iron fist for decades. People took themselves and their families to the streets as passion ignited for a greater, stronger and freer Yemen, for the fall of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the end to his regime.

With Saleh showing no intention to step down, despite the resilience of the protesters, Riyadh became increasingly concerned at the heightening security situation in Yemen. For this reason, the GCC scrambled to broker a deal with Saleh granting him political immunity, meaning he was able to remain in Yemen, sustain his position as leader of the GPC party and live in security without fear of being held responsible for his decades of corruption.

The outlook for freedom only became grimmer when former Vice President AbdRabbuh Mansour Hadi became appointed as the new President of Yemen after ‘winning’ a one candidate election. Because of his proximity to the Saleh regime, many expressed dismay at his appointment which symbolised a recycling of the old regime.

The fact that he was endorsed by the Saudi regime, which forced Yemenis to compromise their Arab Spring aspirations was also seen as a worrying sign.

Things took a turn for the worst in September 2014 after the Houthi coup. Their violent takeover shocked the country into a new upsurge.

Local Yemeni rights organisation Rights Radar sent The New Arab a report documenting the abuses of the Houthis since their takeover, which they describe as a “wave of terror for media professionals working under the Houthi control”.

The report documented the ways in which the Houthis took over media outlets and waged war on ones that refused to comply with their propaganda standards.

The Houthis took full control of all state media outlets and shut down all private media outlets critical to their views

“The Houthis took full control of all state media outlets and shut down all private media outlets critical to their views,” the report said.

Between 2014 and 2015, they routinely ransacked headquarters of media organisations, including Yemen’s state news agency Saba News and their equipment.

Journalists are routinely targeted, subject to torture, detention and disappearances, with death waiting at their doorsteps.

Rights Radar described the inhumane circumstances journalists who fall into the hands of the Houthis are forced to endure.

One particular case, Abdul Khalik Amran, who was abducted in June 2015 was particularly disturbing. He had already suffered from pre-existing health conditions when he was detained and despite his family telling the authorities in Sanaa, Amran was refused medicine, and calls for him to be transferred to a hospital were rejected.

The Houthis even increased his level of torture as a way to silence his family from speaking to media outlets and human rights organisations. He was left paralysed by the end of last November.

Journalists are routinely targeted, subject to torture, detention and disappearances, with death waiting at their doorsteps

Journalists are also highly vulnerable to assassination. The majority of the time, they are killed on the job in targeted shelling and sniper attacks.

More recently, however, the Houthis have begun issuing death sentences through their de-facto Central Security’s Counterterrorism Unit. One such case was the death sentencing of journalist Yahya al-Jubaihi, further institutionalising the Houthis war on media.

“Journalists are no longer save in Yemen and not only their voices being suppressed but the press and the media as a whole,” Kawkab al-Thaibani, Rights Radar’s spokesperson told The New Arab.

Journalists are no longer save in Yemen and not only their voices being suppressed but the press and the media as a whole

Rights Radar called for global solidarity to end the Houthis war on words.

“While the world is celebrating the World Press Freedom Day, many journalists are either tortured, detained or expecting death. The international community should immediately work on rescuing the affected journalists facing death and torture and to give us all a safe space to speak, write and work in safety and security,” al-Thaibani added.

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