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A Yemeni journalist

Journalism: The fatal job in Yemen

Out of 180 countries, Yemen ranks 166 in world press freedom rankings in 2017 [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 March, 2018

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Yemen is one of the most perilous environments for journalists to operate in.
A word in Yemen can cost one's life particularly if the speaker belongs to the media field.

When journalists professionally and neutrally cover events in Yemen, they know the extent of peril. They could be killed, wounded, arrested or disappeared. Since 2015, journalism in Yemen has been under war.

Over the last year alone, 300 violations were committed against journalists, media workers and media houses,  according to a recent report by the Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate (YJS).

The violations range from disappearance, detention, blockade, equipment confiscation to murder.

The parties to the conflict in Yemen see no value and show no respect for the unbiased journalism. The legitimate government, the Houthi group, al-Qaeda militants and the southern separatists have been sharing a common enmity for the media that does not befit their ideologies and intentions.

Late last month, Yemeni editor Awad Kashmim in Hadramout shared a Facebook post, denouncing the corruption of the local authorities in the governorate. His words ended him up in jail.

One of his posted sentences goes: "There can be no consolation for our people, for the misery of our society, while those leading us - to the unknown - have lost all sense of national identity."

Unfortunately, the crackdown was fast to silence him and throw him behind the bars.

Reporters without Borders quoted Nabeel Al Osaidi, the co-president of the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate as saying the authorities are refusing to admit they are holding Kashmim, which therefore regards him as "missing."

When journalists show responsibility for their work in Yemen, disregarding the politically-motivated agendas of the warring parties, they would be accused of sedition, incitement, conspiracy and lack of patriotism. Thus, the callous measures against journalists are quick to be adopted by both the state or non-stat players in Yemen.

Over the last year alone, 300 violations were committed against journalists, media workers and media houses

Newspaper headquarters set on fire

A job in journalism makes the person under suspicion in this country. Therefore, neither journalists as individuals nor the media institutions are safe. All of them are legitimate targets in the eyes of the truth-haters.

On March 1, unidentified gunmen attacked Akhbar Al-Youm local newspaper's headquarters in Aden, setting its building ablaze. This certifies one point: words read in the newspaper hurt the attackers or their masters, and thus they acted aggressively to silence the editors and journalists alike.      

Saif Al-Hadiri, the editor-in-chief, said in a statement that armed men broke into the headquarters of the newspaper, setting the equipment and the printers on fire, before leaving the scene on their military vehicles.

A mountain of the newspaper copies were also charred, and staff members were wounded in the assault.

One of the newspaper journalists sustained serious injuries. Waleed Al-Sharabi was inside the office when the fire broke out at the hand of the attackers. As the fire was engulfing the building, he could not exit safely. He jumped from the second floor, breaking one of his legs in addition to a spine injury.

Al-Sharabi's brother, Nabil, posted on his Facebook, saying that his brother is in a very critical health condition. He offered one of his kidneys for sale so that he could save his brother and help provide him with the needed treatment. This journalist may be lucky to receive proper treatment or he may be left to struggle with his pain helplessly.

The attack on Akhbar Al-Youm newspaper is not the first and it does not seem to be the last.

In December of last year, late former president Saleh-owned Yemen Today TV channel was seized by the Houthi militants after attacking it with rocket-propelled grenades, wounding three guards. At the time, 41 staff members were taken into Houthi custody, but they were released two weeks later.

Words read in the newspaper hurt the attackers or their masters, and thus they acted aggressively to silence the editors and journalists alike

'The rifle is safer than the camera'

In a country where the media blackout is on the agenda of the warlords, press freedom is pretty low in Yemen. Out of 180 countries, Yemen ranks 166 in the world press freedom rankings in 2017.

Although press freedom was a chronic issue even prior to the 2015 war, the situation has deteriorated drastically over the last three years. Today, a journalist can no longer note down safely in the field or use his camera to shoot a picture for his story.

"It is safer and better to come with a rifle instead of a camera. Cameras are unwelcome," a tribesman once told a Yemen journalist in Sanaa as the latter went to cover an event in the capital.

In a recent interview published by the Atlantic Council, Mohammed Al-Qadi, a Yemeni prominent journalist, was quoted as saying: "Today, however, journalists are systematically targeted by all warring sides. In Taiz in particular, Houthis think if a journalist gets his or her camera out to shoot, it is as if they’re shooting with a weapon."

It is safer and better to come with a rifle instead of a camera. Cameras are unwelcome

Nowadays, Yemen is one of the most perilous environments for journalists to operate. When journalists embark on a risky task, they realise that it is an adventure, and they need to leave their wills in the house or keep them in their pockets.

Such an unsafe environment has forced several private media outlets to shut down or relocate their offices. In the main cities either in Yemen's south or north, no independent media establishment can work without any fear from or pressure by the dominating authorities or militias.

These independent media outlets or correspondents try to continue their mission despite the formidable challenges on their way.

"I have covered major events in Yemen’s modern history over the past twenty years and yet I believe that this war has been the most challenging conflict to cover. I’ve had some traumatic experiences while reporting over the past four years," said Al-Qadi.


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