The civil war that began in Yemen in 2014 continues to ravage the country and to have a major negative impact on press freedom.
The Yemeni media are polarised by the war’s different protagonists and, to avoid reprisals, have no choice but to toe the line of whoever controls the area where they are located. The Saba news agency takes its lead from the internationally recognised government. Al-Masdar supports the Islah Party. Al-Masirah is the main Houthi mouthpiece. Online access to media outlets has been blocked since the Houthis took control of the telecommunications ministry.
Providing independently reported news and information in Yemen is difficult, as the media are controlled by the various parties to the conflict. There are few foreign reporters in the field. Wherever they are, journalists are watched closely and can be arrested for their social media posts. Some journalists have changed careers to avoid reprisals, but that has not prevented them from being prosecuted for what they wrote in the past.
It is hard to talk about legislation in a country embroiled in a civil war. The legislative environment for journalists is very complex. The laws are out of step with the reality on the ground, and journalists depend on approval by the authorities that is conditional on the loyalty they show them.
Businessmen and politicians have taken advantage of the decline in the economic situation and living conditions to buy journalists and media outlets. Journalists can only report freely if they have another source of income. Funding is provided to media outlets that are loyal to the authorities, businessmen, religious leaders or politicians.
Religion is ubiquitous in Yemen and any journalist who dares to tackle certain social problems is liable to be accused by religious leaders of being a “secularist”, “non-believer” or “atheist”.
Journalists are exposed to the possibility of abduction by Houthis, Al Qaeda or the internationally recognised government. Militias subject them to violence and abuse, and they risk being the targets of death threats, murder or bombings. If detained, they may be mistreated and tortured. Four imprisoned journalists have been sentenced to death by the Houthis on charges of spying for Saudi Arabia and could be executed at any moment.