Thursday, July 6, 2017

Caught Between Saudi Coalition and Houthi Rebels, Yemeni Journalists Face Challenges on All Sides


Afef Abrougui from Global Voices published a lengthy report last week on the deteriorating bloody condition of Yemeni media and she interviewed me for the report last May for my take on the violations against Yemeni press following my analysis piece on the subject published by the Atlantic Council Centre published last May as well. The following is the Q&A interview I did with Afef :-

Afef Abrougui (AA): Reporters Without Borders describes the situation for journalists in Yemen as “disastrous”. Can you elaborate more on the types of violations journalists and media are facing in Yemen?

Me: The war has devastated almost every institution and sector in Yemen, including media group. However, in light of the war, journalists have been targeted deliberately and systematically because of their work. There is a massive violence against journalists by different armed groups; Houthis’ forces, Saleh’s forces and extremist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS and Salafis. The types of violations range between death threats, assassination attempts, unlawful killings, kidnappings, unlawful arrests, detentions without trials, forcibly disappearance, being used as civilian shields during armed fights, media offices being stormed in and forcefully shut down, new websites being blocked, among many other violations. The most shocking violation was the prosecution of a journalist and being sentenced to death.

AA: From the research that I have so far been doing online, it seems that Houthi rebels represent the main party responsible for these violations, what about the Saudi-led coalition? In addition to the airstrikes that killed journalists, have the coalition and those supporting Hadi been responsible for silencing journalists and media on the ground (at least in areas under their control)?

Me: Yes, both the Saudis and Hadi’s leadership share equally the reasons of why there is a blackout on Yemen war in media. As the war began in Yemen in early 2015, WikiLeaks released thousands of diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry, which included documents showing how Saudi Arabia is buying media silence, Arabic media in specific. Plus, reports have shown how the Saudis are hiring PR companies to polish its image in media and "whitewash” its record on human rights; especially on KSA’s war crimes in Yemen. On the other hand, Hadi’s government have blocked several independent foreign journalists from accessing the country; as their reporting challenges Hadi’s folks’ narrative of the situation in Yemen.

AA: How do you think these attacks/violations are impacting coverage of the war in Yemen, a war that is already under-reported? How does this affect independent media?

Me: Media coverage of Yemen war has become like a battle zone; those who have the money and power manage to use media as a weapon of war in promoting their side of the story only and shaping how Yemen war appears on mainstream media. Each side in the war portraits only its “truth” while it’s totally incomplete picture of the situation. As a result, you find a great deal of war propaganda. No middle ground for any other type of media; local independent press suffers a great deal and it has collapsed. The only remaining Yemeni independent media are the Yemeni freelance journalists or citizen journalists who turned into social media disseminating updates on the situation in Yemen.

AA: What can international organisations that work to promote press and media freedoms do to support Yemeni journalists who are on the ground?

Me: It’s very important to give these journalists the attention while they are alive not when they are killed or arrested; meaning it’s important to reach out to journalists inside Yemen and find ways to meet their needs. Very often, a local Yemeni journalist who is covering the war inside the country would his name grab international media’s headlines when he’s sentenced to death or killed or etc. The attention that these local journalists could get while they are alive could really give them a sort of protection from such violations. More importantly, as Yemen’s economy is collapsing, it’s crucial to financially support these local journalists working on the ground. This could happen through mutual cooperation or allocating assignments for these journalists. In simple words, it’s crucial to support Yemeni journalists or media groups morally and financially.

AA: When Houthi rebels first took control of the capital, they resorted to blocking a number of news websites and blogs, do they still engage in such tactics? Have you recently heard about websites or blogs getting blocked in the country?

Me: Yes, they still use such tactics. Several new websites are blocked in Yemen; such as this one - as Hodeidah is under the Houthis’ control and the website is critical to their behaviour in the city. Blogs are not very popular in Yemen but Facebook represents the equivalent of blogs. There are Facebook celebrities in Yemen who are very active in posting on FB and are critical to the Houthis. These celebrities’ FB accounts have been hacked and sometimes more than once. It seems that’s the Houthis’ tactic to censor.