press freedom

May 30-June 5: Government blocks press access; intra-coalition skirmish in Aden

Tuesday, May 30

Adam Baron of the European Council on Foreign Relations writes about the state of affairs in southern Yemen, and listed three actions that European governments can take to help stabilize Yemen. The first is reaching out to the secessionists in the south of Yemen, and recognizing them as key players in the conflict. The second is to bolster law and order in the city of Aden.Finally, Europe should increase coordination with the Gulf States on both stabilization and mediation efforts.

February 3-9: Crackdown on press and protests follows Houthi coup

The past week has seen a significant political escalation by the Houthi movement’s leadership, as well as a heavy crackdown on the media and ongoing protests by a group of youth students who are opposing the group’s coup. Two staff members of the Islah-affiliated TV channel, Suhail, were kidnapped on February 3 by Houthi security forces as they covered a protest against the Houthis outside Sanʻa University. Houthi gunmen also allegedly stormed al-Shomuʻ Publishing House and arrested its staff.

A new movement called "For a Stable Nation" accused the Houthis of storming houses and launching a crackdown on protests as well as kidnapping at least a dozen opponents. The movement also accused political parties and UN envoy Jamal Benomar of being in connivance with the Houthi coup, and called for continued street protests.

Adding to the fears of deteriorating freedom was a memo issued by Ministry of Interior, ordering police to ban any “unlicensed” protest. The ministry claimed that the reason for the ban was concern that public gatherings could be targeted by terrorist attacks.

The Houthi’s gradual escalation reached its climax last Friday, with the group’s unilateral decision to issue what they termed as a “Constitutional Declaration,” which dissolved the parliament and appointed top senior officials from the previous government in military and security positions.

The Houthis’ move has raised fears among opponents, including youth activists who have faced harsh repression by the Houthis’ militias since the group took charge of the capital and other provinces in last September.

The youth union has pledged to go on with their protest until the “Houthi coup” is over. The pace of protests against the group has been small yet steady; activists have made Change Square, the center of the 2011 uprising, the launching pad for their ongoing demonstrations. [Larger protests have taken place elsewhere in the country.]

A new crackdown on foreign press?

Maybe. Yesterday it came to light, via a wave of social media outrage, that American journalist Adam Baron had been deported from Yemen. Adam had been living in San‘a since the beginning of 2011, and as a freelancer for McClatchy, the Christian Science Monitor, and other outlets, he was responsible for some of the best English-language reporting to come out of Yemen's uprising of 2011. Since then he has cemented his position as one of the most well-connected, insightful, and reliable foreign correspondents in the country (an admittedly small pool, but Adam would do as well on any other beat). The events that lead to Adam's expulsion began on Monday, it seems. Yesterday he arrived in Cairo, at which point his friend and flat-mate (and Mafraj Radio guest) Farea al-Muslimi began discussing the case on Twitter.

By last night, Gregory Johnsen had published additional details in a piece for Buzzfeed, while one of Adam's McClatchy colleagues, Hannah Allam, wrote an even more detailed piece. Late last night, Adam finally spoke for himself on the situation:

While all of this was going on, another American journalist, Tik Root, was trying to get back to San‘a after some time away (Tik covered Olympic skiing for NBC, among other things). Yemeni security had other plans, though.

Naturally the Yemeni government hasn't commented officially on the reasons for Tik's and Adam's expulsions, and neither has the US State Department. Some officials who spoke on background to the Yemen Post suggested that Adam had been kicked out for his own safety; kidnappings of foreigners have been on the rise, and AQAP seems to be stepping up its campaign of violence in the capital in response to the military's assault on AQAP positions in the south (more on that later). It could well be that Yemeni authorities are just too scared of anything happening to American citizens to risk allowing them to stay in the country. The US embassy in San‘a closed to public today, citing a recent attack on the EU mission and the general insecurity. 

It could also be, of course, that Yemeni authorities (some of them, anyway) want less foreign press coverage right now. If that's the case, I can't tell exactly why it would be. In recent days the government has seemed eager to publicize its "advances" against AQAP. I doubt we'll get any further official clarification from the Yemeni government, but if we hear anything enlightening, we'll update this post accordingly. There are still a few foreign journalists in San‘a, including Iona Craig and Casey Coombs; I doubt either of them would be surprised to get a call from the authorities, but let's hope they're left alone.